En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

Tuesday - October 30, 2007

From: Schertz, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens, Compost and Mulch
Title: Xeriscape demonstration garden
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am working with the city of Schertz to rejuvenate a xeriscape demonstration garden. We want to plant a hummingbird/butterfly garden using native plants. The current bed is currently overrun with bermuda grass. The Park Superintendent asked for a recommendation on what amendments, if any, should be added to the planting bed. We are on the blackland prairie. After taking your Go Native U classes, I'm not sure we need to do much to prepare the bed other than get rid of the Bermuda and loosen the soil. Some crushed granite might be good and maybe some compost. Could you recommend proportions? Any other amendments? Thanks for your help.

ANSWER:

Frankly, we're not sure you need Mr. Smarty Plants' help, seems like you're doing fine on your own. If you haven't already seen them, let us refer you to some of our How To Articles, which include pieces on "Landscaping with Native Plants," "Wildflower Meadow Gardening," and "Butterfly Gardening Resources." Your specific question had to do with amendments for the soil. We agree with your assessment that in blackland prairie soil, you could use something for loosening up that soil and making it a little more receptive to baby roots. Crushed granite would be fine or just some plain old sand. And compost is always good. Try to get some that has really been "cooked", so you won't be inadvertently planting unwanted weeds with your compost. As to proportions, we think that's a little like cooking from an old family recipe-you add it until it's just enough. Both the sand and the compost are going to help aerate the soil, and you almost can't add too much compost. We've always liked the "squish test" for the texture of the soil. Take a handful (after you've added the amendments and mixed it in), squish it in your hand, then open your fist. If it stays in a ball in your hand, you probably still have too high a proportion of clay. If it kind of falls apart, that's just right. And if it blows away, you have too much sand.

One more suggestion: After you have planted the plants, and/or after seeds planted have come up, a nice layer of mulch will really help. We like organic mulches, even more good compost, but gravel or river rock can be used, too. If you're going to seed, obviously you can't mulch over the seed, because the seeds need light to sprout. The nice thing about organic mulches, like shredded hardwood bark or composted leaves, is that they will continue to decompose and add to the quality of the soil, helping to perpetuate the fertility and beauty of your xeriscape.

Finally, and we know you know this-the biggest problem is going to be getting rid of that bermudagrass. The stuff is everywhere, a non-native invasive if there ever was one. With both underground rhizomes and aboveground stolons, as well as blown and bird-carried seed, bermudagrass is extremely hard to eliminate. Since it is fall, this might actually be one of the few cases when an herbicide could be justified, although we don't like to recommend them. The problem is, with those underground rhizomes, bermudagrass can live to rise again, like it or not. You didn't mention if you were planning to till the plot; while that would mix the amendments and perhaps clear some rocks and debris out of the soil, it really isn't going to do a whole lot to eliminate the bermudagrass, and can certainly stimulate other, dormant, plant seeds that you don't want to appear.

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Combining native shrubs for hedge in Austin
April 15, 2009 - Smarty, Please tell me what the definitions are for all the various water, soil moisture, drainage and light requirements mean. Are the definitions global? I live in Central East Austin and inten...
view the full question and answer

Failure to come up of blackeyed susans in Lancaster PA
June 28, 2009 - My blackeyed susans have been blooming for ten years. All of a sudden this year they didn't come up at all..why?
view the full question and answer

Fast-growing evergreens for privacy in Center, TX
March 30, 2010 - I live in East Texas and am looking for a fast growing evergreen for a privacy screen around my backyard. The area gets partial sun and the soil has a lot of clay in it.
view the full question and answer

Problem With Vegetable Garden Soil
June 09, 2013 - We live in Liberty Hill on 25 acres and we are working to restore native grasses and plants. We are ardent supporters of the Wildflower center. I say this because my question is not "typical" of wh...
view the full question and answer

Living fence of native plants for Ojai, CA
September 20, 2008 - I would like to build a "green fence" about 10-15 feet tall. I live in Ojai, CA where we have VERY hot summers and it goes below freezing every winter. The soil does not seem to drain well..it is e...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center