Home landscaping with Texas plants

In the front yard, large patches of Gregg’s mistflower and mealy blue sage—both native Texas plants—have become favorite haunts of monarch butterflies. In the backyard, coral-toned, bell-like blooms of the flame acanthus beckon to lazy afternoon bumblebees. Bob Kamper pauses nearby for a breather from cutting back the hardy native, which has thrived in the drought and threatens to take over the yard. Bob failed to consider the mature size of the acanthus, “a rookie mistake,” he explains.

“Once established, native plants grow and thrive without fertilizer, poisons, pesticides, or water other than rainfall,” he says with a chuckle. An avid native landscaper, Bob advocates for native landscaping as a member of the local chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas.  “Native landscaping [uses] plants, plant habitats, and soils that occur naturally in the locality,” he explains, “[and] provides habitat for songbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. Native plants typically use less water than non-native . . . , [which is] important to dwindling water supplies.”

For those interested in native landscaping, Bob recommends a three-step process of “define, design, and refine” and advises beginning in a backyard before moving to the front yard, to gain a little experience. Bob uses a the cyclical process described below on his property, which was certified “Best of Texas Backyard Habitat” by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and a monarch waystation by Monarch Watch. Before starting a landscaping project, Bob encourages landscapers to research HOA regulations and restrictions.

Define.   Bob recommends starting with a map of your yard that identifies existing plants and major pathways. “Consider orientation to north and south, east and west, location of buildings, slope of land, natural water flow and collection,” he says. Then gather information from online resources and books “[to] determine what kind of garden or landscape you would like and what would be appropriate for the area.”

Design.   After defining garden type and location, Bob says, move to step two: “Decide what [to] plant . . . and where. Keep in mind the eventual size of the mature plant, shrub, tree, vine, or groundcover,” as well as the position of pathways.

Refine.   Once plants and pathways are in place, it’s time for step three, “implementation and installation, maintenance, and revising the overall plan.” That, Bob notes with a laugh, “leads back to the define phase. It’s a cycle. You live, and with any luck, you learn.”

Native landscaping resources available online from the Native Plant Society of Texas, Williamson County Chapter, include photo galleries of native Texas plants, listings of local nurseries that sell native plants, and downloadable maintenance guides for seasonal activities. All of these NPSOT resources can be found at npsot.org/wp/wilco.

Bob Kamper recommends the following website and books:
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, wildflower.org
Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region by Sally and Andy Wasowski
Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas by George Oxford Miller
Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife by Kelly Conrad Bender

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