Gardening is easy and fun in the Texas High Plains region!
HighPlainsGardening.com is filled with information that will help you create gardens that are:
- Beautifully thriving
- Low water-use
- Low maintenance and
- Ecologically friendly to our environment
- Filled with interesting plants and plants of a long blooming nature
- Suited to our climate and conditions.
You will find information on the Basic Principles of Gardening and how they are applied to our climate and conditions for gardening success. I define gardening success as a healthy, ecologically-friendly, long blooming garden. I use these principles and take care in selecting my plants to create a landscape with low maintenance and low water use. You can do it too.
I use the term “ecologically friendly” gardening. The thoughts that guide this choice of words are gardening without undo harm to life above and below the soil with rare and minimal use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, miticides, etc. That doesn’t mean no life above or below the soil is ever harmed. You may find the only way to manage a problem is to use synthetic chemicals that are harmful to the environment. These instances should be rare and only used following the specific directions of the chemical, targeting the particular problem at the most effective time in the plant’s, pathogen's or insect’s life cycle. Ecologically friendly gardeners never indiscriminately or routinely use these synthetic chemicals, but only as the last resort (refer to the principle on maintenance: Integrated Pest or, as I see it, Problem, Management, IPM for short). Likewise, organic chemical remedies should be used with an equal amount of reticence and caution.
Some maintenance practices can harm life. Rotor-tilling the soil disturbs and kills microorganisms. Cultivating for weeds damages roots of the plants nearby. Replacing native vegetation with a garden, even a “natural” garden, disturbs and/or destroys the native ecosystem (assuming you begin gardening on virgin land). Walking on moist soil can damage the soil structure. Successful gardening is all about making informed, thoughtful choices. Gardening is an acquired, studied art and skill.
The term ecologically friendly is interchangeable with organic gardening. Malcolm Beck best described organic gardening principles in his book, The Garden-ville Method, Lessons in Nature. These six principles are:
- Always use the best-adapted varieties for each environment.
- Plant in the preferred season.
- Balance the mineral content of the soil.
- Build and maintain the soil organic content – humus.
- Do nothing to harm the beneficial soil life.
- Consider troublesome insects and diseases as symptoms of one of the above rules’ having been violated.
Ecologically friendly means instituting a system of gardening that promotes a diversified ecology; a garden ecology that works within its own garden community to foster not only survival, but also a beautifully, fully functioning ecosystem. This might sound rather daunting, but it is really very simple. The six organic gardening principles are entwined with the seven basic gardening principles. Once you set the system in place, macro and microorganisms above and below ground work together to help sustain your garden. These macro and microorganisms will do a lot of work for you if you give them the chance. Their efforts leave you with more time to spend with your kids, grandkids, friends or just swinging on the hammock.
Basic Gardening Principles – Xeriscape Gardening
I didn’t make up the gardening principles. The gardening principles I refer to are the Seven Principles of Xeriscape Gardening. In the 1980’s, the Denver Water Department bundled up these seven principles, added the focus of water conservation, and introduced them to the Denver area for conservation of water. They called it Xeriscape gardening, an adaption of two Greek words, “xeris” meaning dry, and “scape” meaning vista. Gardening based on making the best of natural moisture, and supplemented with efficient gardening and watering practices. It is not pronounced “zero” scape and is not a landscape of just rocks and cactus. You could certainly include rocks and cactus in your landscape, but xeriscape gardening is so much more.
The 7 Principles of Xeriscape Gardening are:
- Plan and design for water conservation and beauty. Carefully place plants in the landscape according to their water, sun and soil requirements (micro-niche gardening).
- Amend the soil to improve the physical, biological and chemical (mineral) components of the soil, when necessary. I consider this principle the key to success.
- Create practical turf areas of manageable size and shape, with appropriate grasses, or groundcovers.
- Choose appropriate plants for our climate and conditions, as well as for your design plan and maintenance commitment.
- Use water efficiently.
- Use mulches, either organic or inorganic.
- Practice appropriate maintenance. The more of the above principles you implement, the lower your ongoing maintenance will be. This is not a no maintenance scheme. Maintenance is always required. There are right ways and many more wrong ways to do things. I will suggest correct horticultural methods and practices of maintenance for our area, and the best times to perform them.
I call these principles the Basic Principles of Gardening. The basic gardening principles can be applied to any climate and condition and garden style. When you add the word “xeriscape”, water conservation becomes the focus. The aim is to conserve water, not prohibit its use. The implementation of each of the seven principles offers many ways to conserve water and to help create your beautiful and thriving garden. Each time you adapt one of the principles, or even a component of one of the principles, you increase the success of the garden. You don’t have to be an expert with all seven principles. Work on implementing them into your garden as your time and budget permit and watch your success grow through the seasons and years.
Not only are the basic principles of gardening and organic gardening principles entwined, but also each one acts with each other to moderate the extremes of our climate and soil conditions. In the following discussions of each basic gardening principle, you will notice how each basic principle moderates more than one condition, and that several basic gardening principles work together in improving any individual condition.
Our Unique Area
The Texas High Plains region offers gardening challenges unique to us. Indeed, each area of the world has unique challenges to successful gardening. More and more gardeners understand the importance of learning about gardening principles and how they are applied to their particular climate and conditions. For this reason, many find regional information more applicable than national, and local gardening information to be the most helpful. We can learn design principles and read about different garden styles and themes, but what is lacking is how these can be applied to local climate and soil conditions, and which plants will work best.
There is no place on earth where every plant can be grown, outside of a greenhouse or controlled environment. Our area is no different. Many plants will not grow in the High Plains region, but many more will – more than enough to fill my garden anyway. I suffer from a lack of space to grow all the beautiful and interesting plants that can be grown in our region.
It is my hope this website will fill the gap, provide some insight on not only overcoming our challenges, but in finding advantages and using them. Instead of bemoaning what won’t work here, I will concentrate on what will, to your garden’s best advantage.
The climate and conditions for the Texas High Plains area are:
- USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 6 (-10° to 0°), some areas may be Zone 7 (0° to 10°+).
- AHS Heat Zone 8 (90 – 120 days above 85°).
- A semi-arid region, subject to sudden cloudbursts when it does rain.
- Occasional damaging hail.
- Windy conditions throughout the year.
- Hot, searing sun.
- Periods of abnormally high temperatures (above 93°)
- Cloudless conditions in summer and winter.
- Low humidity.
- Rapid temperature shifts.
- Alkaline soil conditions.
- Sandy, compact clay and/or caliche soil. Hardpan soil conditions may be present.
- Low organic content in the soil.
- Saline or sodic soils.
- Increasing saline irrigation water.
We may not experience each and every one of these conditions in our particular locale, each year, but over a period of years each one of our weather extremes may occur. Some years may bring less rapid and less drastic temperature shifts. Not every year brings a sudden drop in temperature as it did in February 2002, with high temperature of 75° plunging down to 12° within 36 hours, and then dropping to a low of 4°. We may garden some years without experiencing hail. Snow may cover our landscape through the coldest temperatures offering a blanket of protection to more cold sensitive plants. Or we could be thrashed with a hundred year hailstorm (June, 2004) or a snow less winter.
Our yearly precipitation averages from 17 – 21 inches of precipitation. There are many beautiful garden plants that will thrive very well with 17 – 21 inches of moisture. But we can receive as little as 7 inches or as much as 25-30 inches. Some years bring rainfall in a timelier manner. But we’ve all experienced months on end with little moisture during the growing season to be followed up with heavy, unseasonable rains. Rain often falls quickly, creating runoff problems due to our compacted soils. Rarely do we encounter the slow, gentle soaking rains of other gardening meccas.
We do receive amply rainfall for many plants and many more plants only require minimal supplementation. I love gardening in the Texas Panhandle. Despite some of these negatives, our weather and climate offer a lot of positives. For one, we have three full seasons of beautiful flowering plants, and three months of less distinguished bloom. We have four distinct seasons and often experience snow. To me, low humidity is a plus. Relaxing outside in late afternoons and evenings is a pleasant way to unwind after work, without getting all hot and sweaty just from sitting. The wind blows, but not all the time. Northern zones may have a milder summer than us, but our autumns are beyond compare. Many years we are treated to gorgeous displays of fall foliage. These are just some of our conditions I enjoy.
As gardeners of our landscape, we have no control over climate and weather events, but we can moderate their effects with careful attention to landscape design, soil management, plant selection and implementation of proper and timely maintenance techniques.
There are remedies for conditions, primarily amending our soil for better drainage and adding organic matter. For some conditions, careful plant selection and placement in the landscape is the key to overcoming a negative (for instance, choosing plants adapted to USDA Zone 6 average low temperatures and choosing plants that withstand AHS Heat Zone 8 temperatures above 85°). Each section on a Basic Gardening Principle offers many suggestions for increasing the success of your gardening. In addition to the explanation of various maintenance techniques, I have provided a lively chapter called Stepping Stones to Gardening Success, my view of what a successful gardener in the High Plains Region may be found doing in any given month. I will include profiles of many plants (with pictures) appropriate to our region as time permits. HighPlainsGardening.com is a work in process. Check it often for new features and updated material.
Read through the rest of the website and give it a try. Don’t worry about converting your entire landscape in one season. Work on applying these principles a little at a time, as your time and resources permit. My first xeriscape bed was only about 4 feet by 8 feet, the size of a sheet of plywood. And I planted it in the backyard in the far corner. I was afraid of failure. I should have been afraid of success.
For further study, three books I found to be most helpful are: The Xeriscape Flower Gardener, A waterwise guide for the Rocky Mountain region, by Jim Knopf, Johnson Books, 1991, Weather in the Garden, by Jane Taylor, John Murray Publishers, 1996, and The Weather-Resilient Garden, A defensive approach to planning and landscaping, by Charles W. G. Smith, Storey Publishing, 2004.