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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - May 22, 2014

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Container Gardens, Xeriscapes, Soils, Erosion Control, Cacti and Succulents
Title: Problem garden strip in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Currently I live in the west half of a duplex. There is a small strip of dirt about two feet wide between the wall and the sidewalk in the backyard. It faces west, meaning it only gets sunlight during the hottest times of the day, Also there is a lot of clay on this property (clay loam) and rocks. If and when it does rain, there is some standing water from roof runoff until it all flows out across the sidewalk and down the hill (we live by a slope by a small creek). Like others, I want to find a few adult native xeriscaping plant options that can cope with those conditions without burning a hole in the bank account. I think ferns would be best but what kind? I had some kimberly ferns there but they needed a lot of watering and they sunburned during the summer. This harsh winter killed them so I figured it was time I learn from that mistake.

ANSWER:

You said you were "currently" in a duplex. If this is a rental or a residence you do not consider long-term, we suggest you make no substantial investment. In fact, you could solve several problems by growing specimen plants in pots. This would also solve your soil problems, as you could put down a layer of gravel or river rock to hold the earth, position the pots on top of the stones, and good potting soil in the pots. The sunlight situation is not optimal. There are few plants that would be happy with 2 hours of  bright glaring sun and heat, and shade the other 22 hours.

We will try to make some suggestions that will be more suitable for your problem space. You expressed a wish for a more xeric solution, so we'll start with that. There are a number of succulents that grow well in dry, hot environments and can tolerate a fair amount of shade:

Manfreda variegata (Mottled tuberose),

Manfreda sileri (Siler's tuberose),  

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista) and

Euphorbia antisyphilitica (Candelilla).

None of them grow very large and there are no thorns, as that would be dangerous to the gardener in a small space. You could also consider other, larger succulents for pots. Most of these grow slowly and it would be a while before they got in the way of your sidewalk or threatened passers-by, by which time you might have moved to a more suitable space. Some we particularly like are:

Agave havardiana (Havard's century plant)

Opuntia ellisiana (Spineless prickly pear)

Yucca pallida (Pale-leaf yucca)

Escobaria vivipara (Spinystar)

Please read our How-To Article on Container Gardening with Native Plants.

 

From the Image Gallery


Mottled tuberose
Manfreda variegata

Siler's tuberose
Manfreda sileri

Texas sacahuista
Nolina texana

Candelilla
Euphorbia antisyphilitica

Havard's century plant
Agave havardiana

Spineless prickly pear
Opuntia ellisiana

Pale-leaf yucca
Yucca pallida

Spinystar
Escobaria vivipara

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