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Mr. Smarty Plants - Xeriscape demonstration garden

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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.

 

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