July 14, 2016
Gravel in the Garden: Good, Bad & The Ugly
I could sure use about 10 full days to cut back my unruly garden. “Why didn’t I keep this simple?” I ask myself. Enthusiasm to wrangle mountains of out-of-control perennials quickly wanes when Sunday morning heats up faster than neglected noodles on the stove.
Even though drought-tough plants are wilting as fast as I am, ‘John Fanick’ phlox carries right along in its afternoon-shaded spot, sporting compact bouquets of white and pink.
Chiggers aren’t troubled at all, sad to say. Populations and subsequent viewer questions exploded recently, so John’s got the easy fix this week: dusting wettable sulfur.
This works! I used it myself a few years ago in a weed-infested strip in the strip between our house and the rental house. Just don’t apply on a windy day.
Try John’s rubber band and sock trick to help fend off itches of any sort. If you’re like me, I’m allergic to many plants and need to stay well-covered!
Grub worm questions keep crawling in. First, do you really have a problem? A few is no big deal. If you had LOTS of June bugs this year, now’s about the time to treat for new larvae. Beneficial nematodes are the natural way to go. But do read the instructions: you’ll need to keep the ground consistently moist for them to establish.
Better yet: encourage toad and insect diversity to do the job, above and below ground. We were plagued with June bugs when we bought our house. Now, we’ve got less than a handful a year.
Hot, dry and breezy days dry out soil and leaves so fast. Wildlife is thirsty, too, and just so delighted that you kindly planted fruit.
If you’d like to hang onto some of it, Daphne shows how viewer Christina Pasco protects her peaches on a two-year-old tree.
A year ago, Christina started collecting strawberry containers. With kitchen scissors, she cut extra holes for ventilation and rain and surrounded each luscious peach.
She secured the containers with electrical tape when she noticed that crafty squirrels had figured out how to open them! And, she checks daily to rescue ants and other small insects that make their way in.
Christina reports that it’s worked great, but notes that you’ll need salad-sized containers for larger braches. Find out more.
Plant of the Week coleus doesn’t qualify as supremely drought tolerant, but in semi-shady, well-composted beds, it’s not a water hog. Instead, go hog-wild with hot colors to match the mercury.
Tidy and compact (though sizes vary), it’s the drama queen of containers to pep up that shady porch or patio. This one, Black Cherry, is like holiday poinsettias in July.
Do mulch containers and bedding plants to conserve water and to protect those lovely leaves from splashing soil. Coleus is a plant that keeps on giving, since they’re so easy to propagate. As winter approaches, pluck leaves to nurture in bright light indoors to replant next spring. Find out more.
Everyone’s got their own style, and I’m all over that. Except for one thing: this.
Ecological landscape designer Elizabeth McGreevy of Droplet Land Design joins Tom to examine what I call “gravel graveyards” and “wildlife deserts” and why they are NOT saving water. In fact, they disrupt the natural rainfall and nutrient cycle.
I’d much rather see non-gardeners maintain proper lawn techniques (that don’t use that much water) rather than “dazzle” us with this mess. Missing from this picture: wildlife. Always.
So often, dismayed viewers email when they bought a house (often flipped, I suspect) asking how to deal with weeds and tenacious Bermuda grass in mounds of gravel. If desperate folk go for the chemicals, they pollute our watersheds. And that’s considered “saving water?”
Elizabeth hits on one of my top rants: weed barrier. Not only is it useless against weeds, it impedes water flow, creates mosquitoes, and always sneaks back up to look absolutely ugly.
AND YES, there is a good side to gravel! Smaller aggregates allow rainfall to slowly percolate into the soil. Dryland plants that naturally dislike mulch on their roots prefer light-colored stones.
Elizabeth illustrates many examples, but here’s a couple from one of her designs that we featured. Here, she used ¼ minus limestone in a curving pathway to wind around her geometic design, including a front yard conversation area. Texas sedges, bamboo muhly, and silver ponyfoot replaced grass.
In this no-lawn garden, steel raised beds and gravel fend off rushing water down that slope to the street. At curbside, rainwater sinks into the gravel and it makes a nice buffer for people getting out of their cars.
On tour in Hudson Bend overlooking Lake Travis, Dr. Bruce McDonald wasn’t a gardener until a few years ago.
When he retired early to care for a handicapped daughter and an ill wife at the time, he needed an at-home project. That year, raging wildfires led him to clear some of the ashe junipers near the house and create a courtyard garden and ponds.
One of his neighbors helped him enclose the garden with a 6’ x 135’ retaining wall, filled with excavation from swimming pools in the area. He inserts succulent pups as he divides his growing collection.
The top is cinder block, reinforced with rebar and concrete with a coat of stucco on top. Gradually, he defined beds and a dry creek for flood control with scavenged rocks and filled with passalong succulents and perennials in this Certified Habitat garden.
His bog-filtered ponds stay clear naturally, filled through large rainwater collection tanks.
Bruce discovered his new avocation as a rock hound. On one pond’s rocky back side, he tucks in succulents.
Then, he built a dry stack wall with some of his collection. It tumbled in 2015’s severe Memorial Day floods, so he’s gradually mortaring it, filling in top niches with agaves.
For privacy and air flow, he adapted trellises near the house. Shade sail cloths cool down the patio area as trees have died.
Living right above Lake Travis, Bruce watched it fall to alarming low levels. In response, he started digging up grass in front and framing his new ideas with more scavenged stones. He’s quickly growing his new garden with rescued optuntias, succulent pups from friends, and pass-along flowering perennials.
To slow down rainwater from the slope, he dug in a dry creek bed.
Across the driveway, slight concrete bumpers help direct water into another dry creek bed to divert from the house and into the backyard.
Now a member of the Austin Pond Society and the Hudson Bend Garden Club, Bruce starts each day with moments of contemplation as he plans his project of the day.
Watch the whole story now!
Thanks for stopping by! See you next week for our best tasting tomato roundup and a visit to innovative wicking beds. Linda