Grow a Successful Hill Country Garden

Yantis Lakeside Gardens

Living and Gardening in the

Beautiful Texas Hill Country

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Grow a Successful Hill Country Garden

By Robert & Sheryl Yantis

It is important that you understand your environment, weather patterns and the plants that thrive in the Hill Country. Good planning will save time and money and reduce the number of mistakes you make. Learn that everything you do in your garden affects its future.

Enrich the soil. Get your soil tested. To increase plant health, conserve water, and reduce fertilizer use add organic matter, such as compost, to your soil. Hill Country soils almost always lack organic matter if there is even soil at all. If you have little or no soil, try making berms or raised beds. As a rule-of-thumb, work in 6 inches of organic matter into landscape beds and planting areas.

Know the light and water requirements for all of your plants. Group your plants together according to the amount of light and water they require. Plant all the plants that need only natural rainfall in one bed. Plant those plants that need occasional watering together, and those that need regular watering in another place.

For optimum survival rates, plant during the spring, fall or winter. The best planting times are when it is cooler in the fall or winter so roots can grow and the plant will be better able to survive our hot summers. After planting, apply a 3 to 6 inch layer of mulch. Research at Texas A&M has shown that unmulched soil may lose two times as much water to evaporation as mulched soil.

Never pack down the soil when planting and do not compact the soil by walking on it. Make sure that your plants have good drainage. Learn which plants require good drainage to survive. Try to use paths or something like boards or large stones to distribute your weight when you have to walk in your garden.

Use native plants, shrubs and trees or well adapted varieties. It is better to spend your money and effort on plants that will survive our hot dry climate and usually alkaline soil than on plants that require a different environment. Native plants use less water, have fewer pests and require less maintenance.

Work with nature not against it. Encourage biodiversity by planting a variety of plants that provide a habitat for the natural enemies of garden pests. Your garden should be alive with birds, frogs, lizards and beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings. To encourage these creatures provide a water source so they will stay longer in your garden.

Spend time in your garden observing and learning. Never spray to kill insects unless you know what they are. Make sure it isn't a beneficial insect or butterfly caterpillar before you kill it. Educate yourself so you will know what you are doing. When you put in a garden you have created a micro habitat. Buy only garden books that are written for our unique Hill Country environment.

Work wisely. Spend time in your garden on a regular basis. It is much easier to work a little on a frequent basis than spend a hot afternoon picking weeds that are out of control. Garden wisely and use the least toxic methods of pest and weed control first and use harsh chemicals only as a last resort.

One of the keys to a successful garden is to spend time enjoying it. Your garden changes every day and there is always something new to see and do.

You can also keep a garden journal to record things such as what plants did especially well or which plants you want to move. You can also record when plants sprout or bloom. A journal can keep a record of your successes and failures and provide you with valuable information you can use in the future.