The Truth About Sustainable Landscaping

Sustainable landscapes don’t have to be ugly.  A common misnomer is that, in order to be sustainable, a landscape must be full of native plants, sticks, and weed-like wildflowers.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible firms designing and installing beautiful sustainable landscapes, but I also see a lot of them in our area that look great for about a month in the spring and the fall; otherwise, they look to be a mess.

The term “native” gets thrown around a lot in the landscape world, and depending on where you live, it can mean different things.  In Texas, because our state is so large (and awesome), we have a lot of different native materials that work well in some areas and not in others.  What works in the high desert of West Texas will not work in the Piney Woods of East Texas.  Not so long ago, the DFW metroplex was a Backland prairie, and as such, most of the native plants for our region are wildflowers, low grasses and some ornamental trees.  While it is lovely to drive past and admire a field full of wildflowers, we all know they are short-lived, and after the blooms, they will blend in with the pasture.  A great look for a farm, but not a residential landscape.

The good news is, there are a lot of adapted plant materials that will thrive in our area. Native plants can look great when used in conjunction with other adapted plant material and will not require a lot of watering (this is key).  Too many times, we see high water bills and over-watered material; if a plant looks bad, adding water should not be our first response (it’s not a cure-all for plants!).  Check the soil a couple of inches below the surface, and if it is moist, we know watering is not the issue.  With the right design, a residential landscape will contain plant material that requires little water (1-2x per week) once it is established and looks great throughout the seasons.

Here are some examples of plants that would fit into this category of adapted plants for our area that look great year-round.

Shade Trees:

  • Burr oak
  • Live oak
  • Cedar elm

Ornamental Trees:

  • Texas Mountain Laurel
  • Desert Willow

Shrubs & Vines:

  • Dwarf Palmetto
  • Rosemary
  • Crossvine
  • Chinese Wisteria
  • Groundcover
  • Purple Wintercreeper
  • Grey Santolina
  • Frog Fruit

Ornamental Grasses:

  • Berkeley Sedge
  • Inland Sea Oats
  • Gulf Muhly
  • Dwarf Hameln Grass