How do I fix my Houston backyard?
September 18, 2008 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Garden project: I want to renovate the backyard since Hurricane Ike has given me some time off. Any ideas?

I live in Houston and almost never go into the backyard because of the heat and the ants. As a result, the yard has been neglected. Here are some photos.

I have a lot of time off due to Hurricane Ike disruptions, so I'd like to fix this up a little. I'm not interested in anything complicated like waterfalls or ponds or terraces. I would be interested in putting fruit trees or trees for shade and other long-term low maintenance plants.

It's about medium sized for a Houston suburb home. It's a rectangular shaped backyard that gets lots of sunlight. I don't know anything about gardens, and I have someone cut the grass.

I'd like the place to look clean and visually appealing, but to be easy to maintain for a beginner. I tried taking a box of seeds and growing flowers, but it never turned out like the Burpee pictures show.

Sorry I'm rambling. Where would I begin to rework this backyard?

I don't know what I want other than it should be relatively simple, relatively inexpensive and able to survive the Houston climate and soil.
posted by abdulf to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
How's your water bill? You may want to start by re-planting part or most of the lawn area with a less thirsty groundcover. Some suggestions can be found here. This is geared to very sandy Arizona soils, so you may need to speak to a landscape architect in your area to get some suggestions for what thrives in the Houston region.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2008

Fruit trees are not a great idea for low-maintenance. They are pain in the butt to take care of and require lots of water.
posted by schroedinger at 3:33 PM on September 18, 2008

1. Get rid of the lawn, as much as possible. Lawn can be good for some things - if you want an area for your kids to play on, for example, but generally it's a waste of space that could be put to more useful purposes.

Firstly, get some Roundup (Glyphosate) and spray the area of lawn you want to send to hell. It should start turning yellow within a week. Get a shovel, dig up a sod of soil, turn it upside down - do this to the area you want to get rid of.

2. Get some old newspapers and some mulch. I don't know what good mulch would be available in Houston, but in my part of the world, pea straw or pine bark chips are cheap. Place newspapers over the bare soil you've dug up - 2 or 3 sheets thick, and water on top of it so it doesn't blow away. Cover the whole area like this. Then pile the mulch on top, 2 inches deep.

3. Get some hardy plants. Cottage garden plants work well - lavender, daisies, roses, hebes, agapanthus, herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives. You're right - growing plants from seeds suck, it's a fools game unless you've got a glasshouse set up. But seedlings 3-4 inches high are generally inexpensive and work pretty well. Looking at the climate for Houston, it actually looks like a pretty useful climate. Relatively good rainfall, not much chance of frost.

4. Now the beauty of the mulching system above. Push the mulch aside in an area, about 6 inches in diameter. Tear a hole in the newspaper underneath, dig a hole in the soil, plant your plant, and push the mulch back over. The newspaper helps prevent weeds and grass coming back up, and mulch helps keep water in the soil.

5. Repeat. Water each plant individually - it takes 10 or 20 minutes, every few days, to go round and give each plant some water with a watering can. After plants are growing and healthy, this can be cut back to a weekly schedule of deep watering for each plant.

6. Fruit trees aren't that bad at all. They do like water, but it's not a hassle. Plant bare-rooted fruit trees (usually available from nurseries in the winter). Once they start shooting in the spring, use a fork to push some holes in the soil around them - in line with the edges of the leaf canopy, and put a bucket of water on them every week or so. The water will drain straight down those holes, reaching the roots.
posted by Jimbob at 7:32 PM on September 18, 2008

Try to use as many plants native to your area as possible; this will cut down on how much preparation you have to do to the soil, how much you will have to water, etc. A quick search shows at least a couple of garden centers in Houston specializing in native plants.
posted by frobozz at 10:07 PM on September 18, 2008

Houston gardener here. Jimbob has the right idea but please, please don't use roundup.

I've had a LOT of success with lemon, grapefruit, avocado, and bananas. Remember this is a tropical city - anything that grows well in New Orleans or Florida will do well here.

When I've had immature yards like yours, I find the best way to get started is to put the big stuff in, like trees and bushes, and then sit with it for a year or two to get used to it. You have some landscaping but the stuff that's there won't get a whole lot bigger, so if you want to keep things as is, you can plant under and around what you have.

If you want an oak or a magnolia, something that will create some shade, now is a good time to plant trees since we won't get a lot of heat stress for at least 6 months.
posted by pomegranate at 4:41 AM on September 19, 2008

Yeah, I know RoundUp is bad, but damn it's so good at killing lawns.
posted by Jimbob at 5:31 AM on September 19, 2008

I'd love to have that much room to grow vegetables, you could certainly devote some room to a good veggie plot. I started doing something along the grow biointensive method, and it's amazing how much stuff I got with very little experience. They have all sorts of plans and data in the book on that website, your library might have it.

Square foot gardening, by Mel Bartholomew, is another way to go too. It's good for veggies and flowers. You can intercrop your veggies with flowers and have amazingly beautiful plots.

I have no idea what would grow in Houston, but if you can get some rain barrels they can help you no matter what you want to grow.

I'll also third the suggestion for fruit trees. Also, the county extension probably has information on what grows well in your area, and I saw something about fire ants there, too. Good luck!
posted by glip at 8:24 AM on September 19, 2008

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