Plant suggestion - low/no water, evergreen, not too tall (pics)

drzy(9)January 7, 2012

The subject kind of covers the important parts already. :)

But for the backstory, I moved into a home recently that has enormous potential for a beautiful front yard. It's in a country-ish area on 6 acres, approx. 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio. It's on the edge of what's known as the Hill Country down here, so temperatures dip below freezing maybe 10 times each winter. It's rare to go below 20, but it does happen, maybe once a year.

I want to leave the vast majority of the front yard natural, but up by the top of the driveway there's an area with a massive concrete driveway on one side, and a small cliff on the other than drops to the natural area. It's a good distance from the house and approx. 200 feet long, with no sprinklers, so I'd like to plan this area planted with low (no?) maintenance evergreens, that MAYBE need to be watered in severe drought conditions. I'd also prefer to keep the plants fairly short, so the natural front yard can be seen. In other words, I don't want it all to be a giant 200 foot long hedge. :)

It was mostly "natural" when I moved in, but "natural" meant overtaken by weeds.

So my question is, what's a good plant for this area with the following characteristics (in order of importance):

1. Very little water required

2. Always green (blooms are of course great, but not necessary)

3. Not a giant hedge

4. Fairly cheap, since it's a large area

Invasive is probably fine here, since it's bound by driveway and cliffs.

I'm not sure if it'd be best to cover the entire area with one type of plant, or use a variety. Suggestions on that are also extremely welcome, as I'm at a complete loss of what to do. I'm very much a brown thumb, and have a long history of well-intentioned but poor-performing plant jobs.

Pictures (cell phone pics at desk, sorry for poor quality):


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I think holly,oleander,juniper,cedar,yew,privet... fit your place.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 8:43PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Well, there's always junipers. Sun, right? I love junipers, and there are wonderful varieties, and when the right ones are planted well the are magnificent. However, there is one unattractive variety that most people plant en masse and then leave in place forever. If you can avoid that, you can do really cool things with junipers.

The juniper alternative for shade, also a cool plant, is Microbiota.

I don't know why ferns popped into my head, but some ferns are remarkably drought tolerant and what's good about them is that, like some perennials, they are evergreen by virtue of renewal, not by virtue of always being evergreen. Eg. Hostas perhaps. Hostas are also remarkably drought tolerant and there are some that like sun.

But I'm way out of my climate zone in giving you advice. I'm thinking about what I would do with this spot in my climate. I bet your zonal plants have some good options. A massive carpet of succulents? Could be awesome.

In your place I think the first thing I would do is go shopping and read lots of plant tags. It has to fit your vision above all, and you can develop your vision by seeing what options you have and imagining each of them in the space.

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 3:00AM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Looks like an ideal situation for a kickazz cactus garden. A number of cacti are cold hardy, and can be quite attractive in groups. They would need some water initially to become established, but after that, could survive on rainfall.

A couple of examples:

I am not sure all plants shown are hardy to 20*, these are examples of what you might be able to do.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 4:15AM
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Contributors can throw plant suggestions at you (and some good ones have been made: junipers, cactus, succulents. Add Agave.) But in order to achieve a good "design," you will have to put plants in their best place and use them to solve "problems" ...which I'm not convinced have all been identified. (Adding a picture that shows the relationship between your house and drive will help put the scene in perspective.) The question, "one species... or many?" can't be answered until the pertinent issues have been identified. If, in the end, there is more than a single species used, is "100% evergreen" still desirable? ...If it comes at the expense of adding greater seasonal interest? I think not. "I don't want it all to be a giant 200 foot long hedge" implies that you want SOME of it to be a hedge. Why? Is your goal just to cover the ground with something green and pretty? Or is it to create an outdoor space that contributes as much as possible to home and driveway scene? I'm curious... why no desire for some shade somewhere? I envision a driveway that is blindingly bright and baking hot for much of the year. One can maintain a far ranging view BELOW a canopy of overhead foliage.(This does not necessarily mean trees, either.)

"...low maintenance evergreens that MAYBE need to be watered in severe drought conditions." There's probably nothing that be expected to go without regular watering during the establishment period (which might be anywhere from one to three years, depending on the plant and the site.) This might explain your "brown thumb." In this long, narrow situation, a soaker hose on a water timer might be a cheap solution that requires little of you.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 9:54AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'd suggest that you get yourself a copy of the book by Sally Wasowski, titled Native Texas Plants, Landscaping Region by Region. This book exactly addresses the special concerns, problems and opportunities that your home in San Antonio is faced with. You probably have very thin soils over limestone rock, with a sprinkling of some of your native Junipers and Oaks already on the slope area. I also see that you have Opuntia cactus and an Agave that has bloomed and died.

The book I recommend has both great text that will walk you through the design issues, hypothetical planting plans for each region and plant palette, and a compendium of Texas native plants with good photos and cultural requirements. As you are still in a severe drought stage in most of Texas, with water rationing in many areas and a past summer with some of the most extreme heat that Texas can bring, a no water/no maintenance new garden installation is probably not very pragmatic. I would concentrate on selecting appropriate Texas natives adapted to your extremes,(no lack of natives from the Edwards Plateau that are both tough and beautiful in season). If you were to concentrate on using some sculptural succulent-type plants such as Dasylirions, Agaves, Nolinas, Yuccas, in combinations with contrasting softer foliaged clumping ornamental grasses and flowering herbaceous natives. It will be critical to match plant requirements to the depth of soil and amount of sun or shade if you truly want to minimize irrigation and maintenance.

You've got a beautiful setting that presents some rather daunting challenges to successfully landscape within the criteria you lay out here. If you still feel intimidated even after a careful read of the book I recommended; I'd suggest you hire one of the many talented local landscape designers that work in your area for a consultation.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 1:32PM
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Thank you everybody! This took me from having no idea last night, to having lots of amazing ideas. Thank you so much!

I'm not very familiar with most plant varieties and will look each of the suggestions up. Re: the cactus garden, in the middle pic you can see the previous owners had done that to some degree (there are more cacti behind the ones pictured), and that turned out very well -- I haven't touched them, but they've still thrived and look very nice. I'll certainly look at expanding that.

To answer some questions:

> Sun, right?

That's correct. LOTS of sun for most of it, thought the far end is below some trees and shady.

> Is your goal just to cover the ground with
> something green and pretty? Or is it to
> create an outdoor space that contributes
> as much as possible to home and driveway scene?

Well, honestly, coming in here my goal was the former. But now that I've heard the way you phrased that second question, it's the latter. :) I was thinking along the lines of "git 'er done," but now I'm thinking more like "git 'er done RIGHT."

> Adding a picture that shows the relationship
> between your house and drive will help put
> the scene in perspective.

Absolutely, here are some more. These are from when we moved in 6 months ago, the driveway in the 3rd picture has been extended since.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 2:00PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

How about scattering some plants in really large pots here and there along the edge of the driveway? (Site them either on the driveway itself, in the bed next to the driveway, or both.)

The pot colors would echo the adobe, tile, and dark brown of the house. The plants themselves would include creamy white and terra cotta orange shades, again tying the other side of the driveway to the house.

If you can't find pots in the right colors, paint them.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 3:53PM
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Consider something native and well adapted to heat and dry. Google "Leucophyllum." Commonly known as Cenzio, Texas Sage or Barometer Bush. There are several species that will work for you there. It will be evergreen in your area, different cultivars come in different sizes. It will bloom after a rain and is a wonderful nectar plant for pollinators as well.

It's a go to plant for your area for very good reasons!


    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 4:52PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Catkim: How does one WEED such a garden?? For weed it one must have to...

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 7:58PM
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Just wanted to compliment your lovely new home. Have you not considered getting a landscape designer to do a site visit and hear what they have to say? You have a quality property - the approach is not the place to cheap out...

    Bookmark   January 8, 2012 at 9:44PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Karin: An ounce of prevention, as is often said, is worth a pound of cure. (Mulch, pre-emergent herbicides) Otherwise, stout gloves are advised. Fewer weeds will sprout in such a dry climate.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 12:35AM
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The suggestion by lucas_tx.... Leucophyllum, looks like a "must have" plant.

I agree with adriennemb that it would be best if you could hire a local landscape designer so the money you spend on landscape is not money that works against your long term goals (as is so often the case.) Look around and inquire who did the design for work that you admire. The property is good size so getting someone on site is better than doing parts of it in piecemeal fashion.

If I lived there, I would be looking for a way to get some taller shade near the drive and near the house. Both look "unprotected." Besides various trees, I'd be exploring if one of the CONTAINED bamboos could be a possibility as they offer so much.

I still can't correlate the new photos with the first set you posted. I don't see the same drive in the new photos.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 12:37AM
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Thank you again everyone! To answer a couple more questions:

> Just wanted to compliment your lovely new home. Have
> you not considered getting a landscape designer to
> do a site visit and hear what they have to say? You
> have a quality property - the approach is not the
> place to cheap out...

I have considered it, and I'm sure you're right. I'm a habitual do-it-yourselfer, wanting to do everything myself, even if I'm not good at it. That's bitten me before. I need to learn when to hand things over to the pros, and this is probably a good example. That being said, I'll still certainly use all the suggestions in this thread when discussing plans with an expert.

> I still can't correlate the new photos with the
> first set you posted. I don't see the same drive
> in the new photos.

The easiest to match up are the last picture in the first set, and the middle of in the second, more colorful set. Look for the large rocks; those sit in the area to be planted.

In the last colorful picture, the driveway is not completed, whereas it is complete in the first set. That might have been throwing people off.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 10:08AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Obviously I'm not familiar with your climate. But from the pictures is looks very similar to the Mediterranean. Have you thought of things like prostrate rosemary, different thymes, sage, bay, cistus, cytisus, teucrium, junipers, lavender, some of the palms and oleanders? Do you get winter rains? If so you could underplant with things like grasses, freesias, species tulips and iris. And it would smell divine.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 1:29PM
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"I'm a habitual do-it-yourselfer, wanting to do everything myself..." Drzy, I understand your zeal, but learning good landscape design might not be as easy to muster up on call as you think. Drive around and find the crappiest professionally designed landscape you can find. I will bet $ to donuts that the person responsible for it has been practicing for years, in spite of the fact that they don't grasp how to tell good from bad. (Or see the recent thread on "wiggles in the landscape" for another example.) Finding someone who does work you respect and like will save you money in the long run. I can't tell you how many yards I've seen where every dollar spent is a dollar that someone else needed to pay to have plants removed. How much is a beautiful full grown tree worth? If it's the wrong tree in the wrong place, it might be a couple grand or more to have it removed! If good design is implemented from the beginning, it's like a portfolio investment. The right plants in the right place give a return worth many times the initial cost of the plants. You not only get a payoff of daily enjoyment, you get a higher price when you sell your house (all other factors being equal.) Even if you only get professional help developing a proper concept, it will pay nice dividends if you plan to be in the house a few years.

Regarding correlating the planting site to the house, I'm still not 100% sure. Are they opposite from one another?

You've said there's lots of sun, but you didn't say yet whether you're interested in any shade. (Maybe you should reserve this question until the end of July.)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 2:13PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

OK, so I'm going to guess that in the very first picture in your, OP, the house is just out of sight to the left?

I am also just beginning to realize how being a committed DIYer can wreck your life. OK, I'm overstating the matter, but I get your drift. I've just decided to hire out almost my first thing ever (OK, we had our roof and gutters done) in hiring someone do make me a website, and even at that my husband asked why I don't just learn to do it myself!! I realize I could have the thing up in two weeks if I hire it out vs. two years and still malfunctioning at that if I DIY.

DIY is kind of a luxury. You get to figure it out as you go along, change your mind at a couple of points, and make decisions as you're ready for them vs. all up front. And you get to go at your own pace. This isn't like a leaky roof; there's no urgency to this. So I can't say I'd try to talk you out of DIY in this, but the pitfalls that Yardvaark lists are true enough. On the other hand it's a small area and you aren't going to end up with an "oops" 80-y-o silver maple in the middle of it.

And DIY is often about making the trip up the learning curve as much as it is about the end result. You just need to figure out whether the former matters to you this time.

You could hire a designer for an hour just to talk it over, and past that, much may depend on whether you have the money to spend. Or you could buy $50 worth of plants that appeal to you to start with, stick them in, and see how they do and how you enjoy them. You might need to figure out if you are planning for the near view or the drive-by... will you get out and pluck a few weeds, check the development of some flower buds, and watch the bulb tips emerge every time you get out of the car, or will you barely notice as you zip into the garage? Or will your eyes rest on this as you look out a window or off the balcony? In which case plant form and structure will be more important.

I think DIY or not, and if not then budget, are among your first decisions.

Karin L

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 7:18PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

My suggestion would be to buy or reserve some books from the library on natives plants for Texas and/or books on Texas landcaping if you want to get up to speed on doing it DIY, and then maybe hiring a designer for a consultation, and reserve the DIY part for the actual implementation of a design. In looking at the house/driveway interface, it would also be my suggestion to consider removing some of the driveway adjacent that porte cochere to allow for some possible live oaks or similar trees in the area of that fountain or at both sides of the port cochere, to give some landscape softening and shade at the house. All that expanse of paving and full hot sun just looks brutally hot to me. All of the planting strips adjacent the house also look way too confined, and the driveway seems plenty large enough to reduce some of it, and it would make your home look less like a parking lot at a motel. Some large pots could be a solution as well, but in your climate without a dedicated valve for drip irrigation of containers, they wouldn't do all that well without daily irrigation, or perhaps once a week if the pots were large and only contained agaves or similar.

I notice that you did mention the idea of being relatively cheap given the area involved, so these other ideas are probably non-starters. Not to criticize the design of the house, but trees against the facade would make a huge difference in first impressions.

But as you did preface your question with

    Bookmark   January 9, 2012 at 10:46PM
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