Agave

Agave spp. is one of the most spectacular show stopping plants for the southern landscape with the most common species of this genus being Agave americana, also known as Century Plant, due to its long lifespan. The Agave species is most recognized as being used in tequila. Agave can grow to a height of 4 to 6 feet tall and wide and thrive in zones 8 to 11 with full sun and little water. It is hardy in South Texas, most of central Texas, and can be used in the Dallas area, but may be damaged with extended temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Agave americana has bold, broad, and thick leaves that range from green, blue-green, silver-blue, and variegated in color. It can live from 10 to 25 years before producing a flower stalk up to 15 feet tall with magnificent yellow blooms in late spring to early summer. As the plant ages the older foliage begins to gracefully arch downward while the younger leaves stay rigid and upright. After it blooms, the Agave dies but soon is replaced by small offshoots that gather around the base.  Small offshoots will begin at the base of the plant long before it will bloom, and they should be removed regularly to allow the primary plan to maintain a gorgeous shape.

20160625_170013Agave should be used with caution in some landscapes and should be handled with care due to its sharp spines on the tips and margins of the leaves. Despite its sharp features, Agave is often utilized as a focal point in residential and commercial landscapes, and it is best paired with soft and colorful textures to provide bold contrast to its broad leaves and silver to green color. It also can be quite interesting as a container plant, but one should be considerate of the potential size of the plant when selecting a container.

 

Other Varieties:

Agave parryi var. truncate or Artichoke Agave is a dense, blue-gray rosette of wide oval shaped leaves that develop in large clumps. It too has sharp spines on the tips of the leaves in a dark brown to black color. It is a waterwise plant and can serve as an interesting mass planting due to its offshoots. It is 2-4 ft wide with flower spikes 15-20 ft tall appearing after 10-15 years.

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Agave ferdinand-regis or Ferdinand Agave is a slow growing, compact succulent forming a rosette of green to blue green leaves tipped with black spines. The leaves of this agave are accented with white marking which give it a more interesting and geometric coloring. It reached 18” tall and wide and is one of the smaller agaves available.

 

*Warning: This plant does not like wet, soggy soil, and roots will rot in this condition.

 

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

Artemisia

Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, or Powis Castle Artemisia, is a medium perennial used in many landscapes both as an accent plant and as a means to break up monotonous greens and soften bright colors. Powis Castle can grow to be 2 to 3 feet tall and twice as wide giving it the ability to make landscape look much fuller.  This particular Artemisia thrives in all of Texas (zones 5b to 9) in full sun to partial shade with average water needs. It is a drought tolerant plant used in xeriscaping and Texas native designs. As with many plants, keep in mind that this plant will stretch in shade conditions (less than 4 hours of direct sun), and the preferred shape (as pictured) is compact and obtainable in full sun conditions.

Powis Castle Artemisia is one of my favorite silver colored perennials and can serve multiple purposes in the landscape. Although Powis Castle has pale yellow inconspicuous flowers it is primarily grown for its fine silvery foliage with a velvety texture. Its dense silver leaves make an excellent border or container plant and serves as a great accent for pops of color. Powis Castle should be cut back occasionally to encourage its attractive mounding habit. It is best paired with other flowering perennials and ornamental grasses where its unique color and texture can stand out. I love to pair it with Salvia, Agapanthus, Esperanza, and Coneflowers.

20150618_174235(0)Other Varieties:

Artemisia stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’, also known as Dusty Miller, is a perennial or groundcover that can reach 12 inches in height and 15 inches wide. It is more cold hardy than the other Artemisia mentioned and is hardy in zones 3 to 9 and requires full sun. It differs from Powis Castle not only its size but also in its larger leaf size.

 

Artemisia scmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’, or Satiny Wormwood, is a small perennial that can grow to 6 to 12 inches tall and 18 inches wide and is hardy in zones 4 to 9.

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

Red Yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora

Hesperaloe parviflora, also known as Red Yucca, is a moderately growing perennial often used in Texas native and water wise landscaping.  It is hardy in all of Texas, the south and into the mid-west, from zone 5 to 11, and requires full sun. Red Yucca is an evergreen plant with long slender succulent like leaves and tall rose pink flowering stalks with small cup like flowers all along them. This plant can grow to be 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in the landscape with vertical or draping flower stalks up to 6 feet tall. It is a great residential design plant due to its relatively deer resistant nature, for example deer will most likely eat the red blooms but will spare the unpalatable evergreen foliage. 20150618_174225

Red Yucca is used effectively in rock gardens and as a landscape accent, and I like to pair it with are Agave, Mexican Feather Grass, Sotol, and Lantana. It is best when used with other desert like plants and in Texas native designs because it uses low amounts of water much like many other Texas natives, making them natural pairings. It provides continued interest in the landscape with its almost year round blooms of rose pink to salmon. Even when not in bloom it does not lose its interest due to its long slender leaves that give it a grass like texture without being too fine. It can provide a great focal feature when allowed to fall naturally over a boulder, when placed next to a dry river bed, or looks great when planted in a bed topped with crushed granite.

20151009_173928Fun Facts:

In my experience, Red Yucca grows well in part shade or filtered sun if the landscape design does not require blooming. This can be advantageous as Red Yucca seed pods yields upwards of 50 seeds per pod. It is easy to grow Red Yucca from seed, and with enough moisture the seed can grow without soil. In fact, the humidity near the Texas gulf coast provides enough moisture in the air to begin the growth of Red Yucca seeds while they are still in the pod. This makes offspring once dropped even easier to root, so remove seed pods or flower stalks as soon as the flowers are no longer present to avoid additional future maintenance.

 

 

Other Varieties:

Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ or Brakelights Red Yucca is a variety of Red yucca that features vibrant brake light red blooms. It is a compact new selection with more prolific flowering and exceptionally long season due to its tendency to not set seed pods. It can reach a height of 2 feet tall and is known to attract hummingbirds due to its cup shaped red flowers that are easier for the birds to get pollen out of and are highly visible.

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Endeavoring DIY

20131118_094215If you didn’t read the article on Hiring an Installer, then I recommend it before continuing. The same concepts will apply.  With a DIY project, service must be the highest priority on your list. You will need the help of a team of professionals who have done it before to “do-it-yourself,” and you will need to act as an installation company would to determine when you should install, how long it will take to complete your installation, delivery, material sourcing, etc.

First, find a design company (HDG Landscape Design or Easy Landscape Plan) that will not ask you to install with their company.  Design-build firms have less design experience in a calendar year because a majority of their time is spent selling and installing landscape installations. Design-build firms focus on a short plant list that they have access to or in unfortunate cases they will select materials they know a home owner cannot find on their own in order to encourage an installation with their company.  Design-build firms are fantastic for their knowledge and experience with installation, but they are not likely to be the right resource if you want to save money with a DIY. HDG Landscape Design and Easy Landscape Plan are design exclusive companies offering plant size recommendations to work within a budget, phasing recommendations, plant images and descriptions to assist with care of your plants after installation, and a material spreadsheet for easy purchasing.

The material spreadsheet and plant descriptions are a valuable resource. They will assist you in understanding the design as well as the recommended material sizes to purchase in order to have a landscape that makes sense when it is installed. They will also help you with future maintenance (mulch replenishment and how to maintain plants).  The plant sizes on the material spreadsheet give advice as to how large a plant material should be purchased. Larger sizes are recommended for slower growing plants or accent plants, and smaller sizes are recommended for the shortest layer or fastest growing plant. These sizes can be manipulated to decrease or increase the final installation cost, but be aware that your team has tried to select the best sizes for you already with all variables considered.

Pick a nursery with staff that can make time for you when you are ready to purchase and know about plants and plant varieties. A trained nurseryman will take your material list and go with you to select all the plants you need. If they don’t have the quantity in stock that you need, then they will be able to understand the importance of the particular missing plant in your design and will not recommend something that is not comparable. Even better, they are likely to recommend you to a nearby nursery that does have more of the same plant in stock or offer to call you when they have more in their inventory. For the Houston area, we recommend The Arborgate in Tomball, Texas. HDG Landscape Design has several clients that drive 150 miles round trip to purchase from and gain the expertise of the trained professionals and visiting lecturers at The Arborgate.

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Ask your material sources if they have delivery options.  If you do not have a vehicle that can haul a lot of weight, then be willing to pay for a delivery from each vendor  which can range from $45-$85 (mulch & soil, plants, etc.).

If you are not willing to do the behind-the-scenes work along with your team of professionals, then DIY might not be the right fit for you. Consider comparing the cost estimates in the “Hiring an Installer” section to determine if DIY really is more affordable with the time and effort you will need to put into it.

If you do not know where to start, then it is best to start by Hiring a DesignerHDG Landscape Design provides a well thought out design to meet your needs. It does help to know your goals up front, but HDG has experience with every type of property and knows the right questions to ask to help you find your answers.

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Quick Budgeting Tips

Imagine the front yard of the most beautifully landscaped house on your street. If you like how many layers of plants they have, then calculate how deep their beds are from their foundation. If you cannot measure that, then estimate by assuming that each large/medium shrub in the layer takes up 3 feet of depth and each small shrub/perennial/ground cover takes up 18 inches of depth. Multiply the desired depth of the beds by the linear footage of your foundation (or location where you intend to install plant material). We will assume that you either do not have an irrigation system and will hand water or you know how to adjust your own irrigation system. We will assume you can remove plants on your property without buying additional equipment to do so, and that you already have the equipment you need to install. With only a few variables to consider (standard sized plants (small), new soil, new mulch, no purchased delivery) your estimated cost for a landscaped bed area can be between $10- $12 per square foot without tax.

 

Check out our links below to get a better understanding of costs and hiring professionals.

Hiring a Designer

Hiring an Installer

Hiring An Installer

When you are considering hiring an installer, start by determining what is the most valuable to you. The rule of thumb is that you receive a good value for 2 of 3 things offered by a landscape installation company (or most companies for that matter).  Those things are service, price, and quality. For instance, if you want a very affordable installation, then you may need to find some patience prior to calling an installation company. This may be because you will receive poor quality materials (or worse, poor installation that causes the plants to suffer once your warranty has expired), or you may receive poor service which can make working with a company tedious and frustrating.

I recommend starting with a professional design company (like HDG Landscape Design) that can give you a quality design and additional support materials that will allow you to bid the same design to multiple installation companies. Design-build firms offer design and installation services, but in the past my clients have received partially complete plans from design-build firms which makes it nearly impossible for another company to provide a comprehensive, competitive bid. Landscape installation companies in Texas tend to charge within 10%-20% of one another, and  it is not unusual to request multiple bids for a project especially if it is your first time to hire a professional contractor. The more expensive the company does not necessarily mean you will receive an increased level of service and quality, so make sure you consider other factors about the company to help make your decision about what is most important to you. Larger companies may be more expensive, but they have the purchasing power and contacts to source unique, higher quality materials in bulk and the additional cost you pay for is a higher level of expertise, service, and quality in terms of materials and installation. Smaller companies may be start-ups that really need that one great client to help their business take-off. You may have a lower overall cost but there are hidden risks (such as not having insurance) and rewards (such as not have a realistic understanding of the time it will take to complete an installation which gives you services for free due to their mistake). No matter what the cost, I always recommend requesting information regarding a company’s insurance and a contract with a warranty agreement, change order agreement, and specific scope of work that is signed by both parties.

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Quick Budgeting Tips

Imagine the front yard of the most beautifully landscaped house on your street. If you like how many layers of plants they have, then calculate how deep their landscape beds are from their foundation. If you cannot measure that, then estimate by assuming that each large/medium shrub in the layer takes up 3 feet of depth and each small shrub/perennial/ground cover takes up 18 inches of depth. Multiply the desired depth of the beds by the linear footage of your foundation (or location where you intend to install plant material). With only a few variables to consider (existing irrigation, existing plants, standard sized plants (small), new soil, new mulch, labor) your estimated cost for a landscaped bed area with a minimum depth of 7 feet can be between $20-$24 per square foot without taxes and other fees  (delivery, travel, etc.).

After working with over 25 installation companies in the state of Texas over the past few years it was noticed that many companies have minimum installation fees in order to ensure a project is profitable. I have a lot of respect for a company that cares enough about their business and employees to find the breaking point between a profitable and non-profitable job. I have noticed that it is difficult to find an installation company that offers services for a project with a budget under $10,000. It is rare to find a professional, business minded company that offers services for a project with a budget under $5,000. If your project falls into the category of “low budget,” then consider holding off on your project until you have other outdoor living or landscape needs that meet the minimum budget of a professional company you trust. At the very least, start by Hiring a Designer to create a phased design to begin budgeting. Showing a design to an installation company tells them you know exactly what you want and where you want it which saves them time in the service they have to give you and saves you money (remember the “rule of thumb” at the beginning of this article).

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Check out our links below to get a better understanding of design fees, design professionals, and DIY.

Hiring a Designer

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Hiring A Designer

Photo by Texas A&M University Faculty/Staff
Photo by Texas A&M University Faculty/Staff

There are many types of landscape designers and companies offering design services.  Each company has different goals and approaches to design. Determine what your goals are, what design services are most valuable to you, and pick a design company you trust. Look on the company’s website for a description of the designer’s background you will be working with to help you determine if the designer will be a good fit for you. Most companies that offer both design and installation services (design-build firms) do not have the designer overseeing the installation, so be prepared to work with a salesperson and a crew leader for each part of the process from design to installation. (This is a normal and efficient practice, and companies that operate efficiently will offer a fair price for their services.) It is this type of common practice that makes it easy to use a design exclusive company (like HDG Landscape Design) to design your project first and work with a contractor of your choice without feeling beholden to the company that created your plan.

If you are looking for just a spruce up with seasonal or perennial flowers or the addition of up to 25 shrubs, then working with your local nursery is a FREE opportunity to receive one-on-one assistance.

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If you have a low budget for installation (see Hiring an Installer), then consider designers that can be found remotely online. This will keep your design costs lower so as to not take away from your installation budget. Easy Landscape Plan, for example, offers a wide range of services, but they reduce their design fees by removing extras such as phone meetings and on-site meetings. Did you know almost all commercial properties are designed by professional Landscape Architects before the site is even built? These professionals use their experience and excellent plant knowledge to design without visiting a site. The Easy Landscape Plan team has the same professional design abilities, degrees, licenses, and the experience to do the same for residential properties. It’s a simple process that is a perfect fit for DIY projects like The Sherman Residence in Austin, Texas. Designing with a remote designer starts at $250.

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If you have a lofty or long-term budget for installation and require a professional set of plans with experience and knowledge to match, then HDG Landscape Design might be the right fit for you.  Although we offer our services to any property size and budget, multi-acre, remotely located properties, large scale installations, or phased designs requiring excellent site planning are among our specialties. Working one-on-one with our Lead Designer may cost you 3%-5% of your long-term installation costs (see Hiring an Installer).

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If you are looking for a company that offers both design and installation services (design-build firms), then reference our link below (Hiring an Installer).

Check out our links below to get a better understanding of costs, hiring installation professionals, and DIY.

Hiring an Installer

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Budgeting for Design and Installation Costs

I receive hundreds of calls every year from clients asking for help designing something for their property. My first question is always, “What is your budget for installation?” That may sound like a strange question for a design company to ask, but it is very important in understanding what can potentially be designed. Your budget for installation is determined by several factors, including whether or not you want to Hire an Installer, complete the project yourself, complete the project in phases, and even the value you personally put on the finished product.

Typically my clients do not have a budget in mind for the design fee or the installation, but they do have an impression of what an installed landscape should cost them. 75% of the time this impression is far lower than what it should be. I will admit, shows like Yard Crashers (yes, HDG designed for this well known show) do give the impression that DIY projects, completing a design for a backyard, obtaining the materials, removing existing site conditions, and installing the new design takes only 2 days. (What they do not show you is the crew of 20 people behind the camera, 4 months of planning and design, and the night shift crew. We estimate that to be about 400 man hours.) So, how do you determine a budget for installation when you are misled so well even by us!? Will this bubble burst cause you to Hire an Installer, or are you certain DIY is the right fit for your project?

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Check out our links below to get a better understanding of costs, hiring professionals, and DIY.

Hiring a Designer

Hiring an Installer

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Fuyu Persimmon

Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’, more often known as Fuyu Persimmon, is a highly sought after variety of Persimmon due to the sweet, non-astringent taste.  You will often find Persimmon fruit to be an astringent variety in most commercial stores. There is a small ripe window for Persimmon, so, if you’ve purchased an astringent variety, then it is likely you have eaten Persimmon too early and with a puckered face. It’s no wonder nurseries carry the Fuju Persimmon tree at a slightly higher cost than other varieties, and if you have had a grocery store mishap as I have, then you will appreciate the higher cost and buy the Fuyu tree anyways.

20160609_171930You can expect this tree to reach anywhere from 10′ to 15’ in height from zones 7-9. The Fuyu is self-fertile like most Persimmon varieties, but it is an excellent pollinator for the Maekawa-Jiro which is not self-fertile.

The fruit of the Fuyu Persimmon contains lower tannin content (the cause of the astringent taste) once the fruit turns from green to orange which allows a larger window of time to eat the fruit (can be eaten even when hard). The Fuyu is known to be a heavy producer with brilliant orange fruit shaped like a slightly flattened tomato from late October through November.

Due to the small ornamental size, edible and colorful value, and the fact that the Fuyu is self-fertile, it is an excellent fruiting tree for small residential properties or gardens with limited space.   Although Loquat is used in zone 9 as a screening hedge, for some color from edible fruit, and large evergreen leaves, the Fuyu can provide similar interest. It has broad leaves, similar fruit coloring as loquat, but has additional added value through fall color in the leaves. The use extends further than a Loquat as the Fuyu tends to be used more as an ornamental tree, and thinning the tree is encouraged to allow for more light and fruiting.

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Lamb’s Ear

If you are looking for a deer resistant, low maintenance and drought tolerant evergreen ground cover (zones 8-10) or perennial (zones 4-7), Lamb’s Ear is the ideal plant for you.  Resembling the down-turned, soft ears of a lamb, Stachys byzantine, commonly called Lamb’s ear, is a low growing, soft textured perennial with fuzzy, greenish-silver leaves. It grows from 6”-8” tall, and spreads to 12”.  Although mostly grown for its foliage, it will produce a spike-like, purplish-pink to white flower in spring and summer.

The best location to plant lamb’s ear is in a spot with part-sun to sun conditions with well-drained soil, but it is also known to handle areas with light shade or filtered sun provided the area also drains well. Lamb’s ear can survive in most soils except wet; it will rot if kept in an area with standing water or if watered too much. If you live in a heavy rain area, then build your beds to drain away from this plant and amend the bed area soil for better drainage.

Lamb’s ear will easily grow in zones 4-10, but in areas with hot and humid summers, such as the San Antonio area, it may turn brown from heat stress if not placed in a location that receives some afternoon shade. Lamb’s ear also will self-sow, and can be propagated by dividing the roots, which should be done every three years to encourage new foliage and to prevent root matting. It can also be sheared if it is becoming leggy.

This versatile perennial can be used as informal edging along a path or flower bed, in groups of three or more, as a container plant and is tolerant to grow just about anywhere. Lamb’s ear’s rich texture and silver color is beautiful when contrasted against darker foliage plants and even boulders in a rock garden.

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Varieties:

The two most used varieties are ‘Helen Von Stein’ and ‘Big Ears’.

‘Helen Von Stein’ variety has the most tolerance to stress from hot and humid summers as mentioned above. It flowers either sporadically or not at all, and does best in zones 5-10. Its silver foliage grows 12”-18” tall and spreads 24” wide.

‘Big Ears’ variety is a bit larger than the average Lamb’s Ear, 10” high and 18”-24” wide and has greenish-gray foliage.

Turk’s Cap

Malvaviscus arboreus, or Turk’s Cap, is a large flowering shrub with a natural tendencys, has a tropical look with large leaves, and flowers resembling a turk’s cap bloom or a closed hibiscus flower. It can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and wide with a wild habit that, when used correctly, can work well in an existing natural setting. It can grow in full sun to partial shade and is hardy in zones 8-11(Central Texas and south). Turk’s Cap is evergreen and blooms red or white from mid-summer to early winter, giving a prolonged interest to the plant.

Turk’s Cap, a Texas Native and Texas Superstar, needs to be used carefully in the landscape, due to its natural habit. It is best for naturalistic or native designs that can grow in mass, allowing its form to show true. It is great along fences where it can grow to its true height and provide an evergreen backdrop to other colorful perennials or annual seasonal color. It can also provide a nice shrub for along windowless walls if you are looking for that natural feel. Planting it behind evergreen shrubs can help to mask its wild appearance if needed but still allow its showy flowers to shine.

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Other Varieties:

Malvaviscus drummondii ‘Big Momma’ is a variety that can survive as far north as Dallas and into southern Oklahoma, and has large eye catching coral red flowers. It is a fast grower to 6 feet tall and attracts butterflies, due to its closed flowers that are difficult for bees to access.

Malvaviscus ‘Pam Puryear’ is a newer hybrid variety with pink flowers. It is more cold hardy than traditional Turk’s Cap and can be grown as an annual north Texas. It grows 4 to 6 feet tall and is hardy as a perennial in central and south Texas, blooming late spring to early fall.

Photo Credit: Kristin Howard