You see it a lot when you’re shopping for a new home in Austin. The home itself is beautiful, spacious, clean and sunny. Unfortunately, the same can be said of the lot. Without trees, it’s bare, spacious and sunny; not a charming description when you’re referring to your landscaping.
“Mature oaks” is one of those catchphrases you hear every time a builder advertises a new community around Austin. Much of the boasting refers to the area on the perimeter of the community or only in certain green spaces within the neighborhood or subdivisions. When you actually check out the available lots, you find a scraped-down plot of dirt.
Fortunately there are options for bringing your yard back to life.
If you can choose your lot before the builder clears trees for construction, you may have a chance to protect some native trees. It might be worth a few hundred bucks to hire a tree specialist to walk the lot with you and your builder. A discussion about careful construction may save a few trees that will provide character and/or shade for years to come.
If it’s too late for that, plant trees.
How do you get started fast to plan and create an established yard?
October is the perfect time to plant trees and shrubs in Austin, as with most parts of the country. Texas’ harsh summers make it particularly urgent to get new plants’ root systems established so they have a running start against next summer’s heat. Winters are mild, with only one or two hard freezes each year. A little protection of your new trees, along with steady watering, and they’ll do fine.
The most desirable shade tree species for Austin yards are Chinquapin Oak and Monterrey Oak. According to arborists at the University of Texas and most gardening forums online, they grow fast, last decades, and withstand extreme temperatures and pests.
Texas A&M has a handy tree planting guide, too.
When choosing shrubs and perennials to fill in bare spots and add charm, check out The Natural Gardener, the Austin standby for all hardy natives — native plants, that is. (You’ll know you’re in the right place by the braying of donkeys Chico and Kiko.) Founder John Dromgoole’s team possesses tremendous information they’ll enthusiastically share with you. If you want to get this elixir of information from the source, listen to his radio show. By the way, the Nov. 1, 2014 show was all about trees, and a little joke about “mowing high…then wanting Dr. Pepper and chocolate chip cookies.” (Keep Austin Weird y’all.)
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts a spring and fall plant sale where you can buy healthy, young trees that will be at home in your soil, whether you’re in east or west Austin. Membership gets you in free, but it’s worth going in any case, because you’ll discover varieties that can’t be easily found at the big box garden departments. What’s more, you can view them fully mature, healthy, and in exactly the right type of environment that makes the trees happy. Bring your site plan and have a horticultural hoot.