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.
John Fanick phlox Central Texas Gardener
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.
dusting wettable sulfur chigger control Central Texas Gardener
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.
powder mill chigger control Central Texas Gardener
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!
rubber band and socks chigger protect Central Texas Gardener
chigger control socks John Dromgoole Central Texas Gardener
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.
beneficial nematodes grub worm control Central Texas Gardener
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.
animal damage to peaches Central Texas Gardener
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.
two year old peach tree with baskets protect from critters Central Texas Gardener
A year ago, Christina started collecting strawberry containers. With kitchen scissors, she cut extra holes for ventilation and rain and surrounded each luscious peach.
peach tree protect with strawberry containers Central Texas Gardener
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.
peach tree protect from animals Central Texas Gardener
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.
Coleus Central Texas Gardener
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.
Black Cherry coleus Central Texas Gardener
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.
Molten Lava coleus Central Texas Gardener
Everyone’s got their own style, and I’m all over that. Except for one thing: this.
bad use of rocks front yard McGreevy design Central Texas Gardener
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.
Tom Spencer Elizabeth McGreevy gravel gardens Central Texas Gardener
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.
weed infested rock garden McGreevy design Central Texas Gardener
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.
limestone gravel walkway Central Texas Gardener
front yard pea gravel patio Central Texas Gardener
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.
no lawn garden native plants McGreevy design Central Texas Gardener
On tour in Hudson Bend overlooking Lake Travis, Dr. Bruce McDonald wasn’t a gardener until a few years ago.
backyard pond patio courtyard Central Texas Gardener
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.
backyard courtyard pond and patio Central Texas Gardener
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.
back of courtyard cinder block and stucco wall Central Texas Gardener
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.
courtyard wall plants and granite path Central Texas Gardener
His bog-filtered ponds stay clear naturally, filled through large rainwater collection tanks.
formal limestone backyard pond Central Texas Gardener
natural bog filtered limestone pond Central Texas Gardener
Bruce discovered his new avocation as a rock hound. On one pond’s rocky back side, he tucks in succulents.
succulents in rock wall niches Central Texas Gardener
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.
dry stack wall agaves on top Central Texas Gardener
For privacy and air flow, he adapted trellises near the house. Shade sail cloths cool down the patio area as trees have died.
trellis fence screen shade sail patio cover Central Texas Gardener
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.
no lawn front yard  succulents and natives Central Texas Gardener
To slow down rainwater from the slope, he dug in a dry creek bed.
front yard dry creek bed no lawn succulent perennial garden Central Texas Gardener
Across the driveway, slight concrete bumpers help direct water into another dry creek bed to divert from the house and into the backyard.
dry creek bed floodwater control Central Texas Gardener
no lawn front yard floodwater control Central Texas Gardener
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.
stone bench patio near backyard pond Central Texas Gardener
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