Want an Ideal Landscape? Think In Threes!

The most enchanting outdoor spaces incorporate three elements: lawn, beds and pervious patio. The result is a brilliant balance of beauty and water-wise benefits.

In anticipation of Earth Day, April 22, I imagined what an ideal landscape would look like through the lens of water conservation, low maintenance and aesthetics, realizing that aesthetics belong to the individual.

In the Conservation department, we believe the ideal WaterSaver landscape — aka xeriscape, water wise or drought tolerant landscape — consists of 1/3 lawn, 1/3 beds and 1/3 pervious patio.

When incorporated correctly, the homeowner should be surrounded by a landscape that minimizes water usage and maximizes beauty. Here’s a breakdown of each element and how it’s maintained.

Elements of the Lawn

  • The variety or species selected should match the physical characteristics of the site. Bermuda grass in sunny areas; zoysia in partial shade; St. Augustine in partial shade.
  • Watering should only occur when the grass is active. For warm season grasses, this is April through October. Watering during the dormant season, November through March, should occur only on an as needed basis.
  • Mow often to eliminate weeds and encourage lateral growth. Mow at least once a week during the growing season.
  • Aerate once a year in spring or fall.
  • Compost twice a year in spring and fall.
  • Fertilize once a year in either spring or fall.

Elements of the Beds

  • Always build in “S” or “kidney” shapes.
  • Use plants on the plant list. These are chosen for their ability to survive unpredictable South Texas weather.
  • Species can be selected for color 10-12 months of the year.
  • The majority of plants should be perennials. Limit annual seasonal color to no more than five percent of the total landscape.
  • Use perennials in groups of three, five, seven or nine individuals of the same species. Don’t skimp.
  • Place large shrubs and trees in beds. Grass and woody plants never belong together. They live in nature in completely different ecosystems.
  • Beds should be covered with 1 inch of compost and 2 inches of mulch in May and September, or as needed.
  • Blow leaves and pollen into beds. Fertilizer is not necessary in beds.
  • Prune perennials no more than three times a year.

Elements of the Pervious Patio

  • May consist of flagstone, pavers, stepping stones or decking.
  • Permits water to infiltrate the soil rather than running over it.
  • For durability, a substantial base should be laid beneath stone or pavers
  • Historically, patios and decks have been designed as squares and rectangles. Let your imagination go wild with a circle or two, or maybe a large kidney shape.
Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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