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Mr. Smarty Plants - Management of xeriscape garden and rock mulch

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Sunday - December 09, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Xeriscapes
Title: Management of xeriscape garden and rock mulch
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have a large xeriscape garden; unfortunately, it is located near some pear trees which drop tons of leaves each fall/winter. The garden is difficult to clean of leaves until I cut back the plants. When is the appropriate time to cut back trailing lantana and ornamental grasses? Also, do you know of any method to remove leaves from around cactus and grasses which have a crushed granite mulch without disturbing the granite or hurting the plants? (raking is very difficult, I'm afraid blowing would move the rocks, and I generally have to use tweezers and tongs and spend hours/days on my hands and knees to get it done) Thanks for your help.

ANSWER:

You have a hard decision to make. What's it going to be? Trees, knees or rocks? Most gardeners are pretty dedicated, but this is absolutely the first time we have heard from one who used tweezers to rake leaves. Seriously, it doesn't appear that your xeriscape and the trees are blending well together in the landscape. Are the trees on your property or someone else's? In all but the barest new developments there is going to be some leaf clearing and disposal of dead plant matter to be done, every year. You said "tons of leaves" which leads us to believe these are fairly mature trees and there are several of them. So, it's likely not practical nor desirable to remove the trees, especially since leaves and trash are still going to come in from other areas.

So, probably the trees stay. Next, we suggest considering the degree of development and the size of the xeriscape. Decomposed granite makes good groundcover in xeriscapes, but it's not weedproof and it's not messproof. You might begin by trimming back the grasses and the lantana now; cutting back can almost always be done in the cool months of November, December and January, unless a very hard freeze is predicted in the next day or so. Try raking very gently with a wide "lawn broom" that is not so likely to drag small stones along in its trail. And, you know, you can always go back with the backside of a regular garden rake and smooth the dislodged stones back out. Finally, you didn't say what other plant material you have in the xeriscape. We would strongly suggest that anything that requires knees, tweezers or tongs to be used in cleanout be considered for replacement. Plants with long spines or thorns, while faithful to the natural landscape of this area, can not only be dangerous to the gardener but passing children, dogs and the postman. Plants which grow down close to the ground, not permitting easy access for clean-up, should be limbed-up or, again, considered for replacement.

We know these all sound like hard choices, and they are, but we think you'll realize you're better off replacing plants than knees!

 

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