Growing Tips

My Backyard Native Landscape Design

Part of the reason I started Native Backyards was to share my own backyard adventures with growing native plants. We have a large landscaped area with a fountain in our backyard and that has become my prime experimentation zone for a native landscape design. That area that has gone through a couple transformations since we moved into our San Antonio, TX home seven years ago. However, only in the last year did I become knowledgable about the importance of using native plants in our landscaping. Now I look at our backyard with an entirely new set of eyes!

Native plant landscaping before and after

Our Backyard Landscaping – Phase I (2013)

1) Overgrown and unruly!

When we first moved in, our landscaping was certainly wild. In fact it was a bit of an overgrown mess! At the time, I didn’t know much at all about the plants that were there. I was just happy to have a yard after living in apartments and condos for the previous 10 years. After a few years of trying to maintain it though, I realized that the area needed to be reigned in.

Non native landscape design with asparagus fern and nandina.
The landscaping when we first moved in to our home.

2) Lots of non-natives

I loved the fountain, but it was hard to access it and keep it clean with all the plants surrounding it. We have two nice large live oak trees in this landscaped area contained by a rock border. Surrounding them were a hodgepodge of plants that I can now identify as nandina, asparagus fern, yellow lantana, vitex (I think!), turks cap, and bird of paradise.

Mix of non-natives and native landscape design with fountain.
Plants included nandina, asparagus fern, yellow lantana, vitex (I think!), turks cap, and bird of paradise.

Our Backyard Landscaping – Phase II (2016)

1) More order with fewer plants and more pruning

In 2016 w1e had a landscaper come help us clean out the beds, create a path to the fountain, and make room for me to plant some annual flowers along the path. With the bed cleaned up and a clear walking path to the fountain, it was easier to enjoy the space and keep the fountain water clean for birds.

Lanscaped area with nandina.
Phase II – fountain surrounded by nandina with drawf yaupon holly on each side.

2) Nandina still creating thick wall on backside of area

Not knowing better, I had the landscaper keep the nandina bushes surrounding the fountain because I liked their red berries. Little did I know that nandina (also known as heavenly bamboo) is a non-native invasive and its berries can be toxic to birds if eaten in large quantities. I’ll be writing more about the nandina plant later this week!

Invasive nandina (heavenly bamboo) in Texas landscape
Backside of landscaped area – you can see how dense the nandina becomes. It spreads by rhizomes.

My Native Plant Garden Diagram

1) Designing a new look

This summer I attended an online native landscaping class hosted by the National Wildlife Federation. They helped us plan out and sketch a native landscape design. I learned so much that I was dying to put my design to use in our yard. Here is how my final garden diagram looked after I knew exactly what plants I would be using. I had to revise my initial design after finding that my local nursery didn’t carry all the native plants I had wanted to use:

Example of native plant garden diagram on graph paper
My attempt at native garden design!

2) Making way for new plants

I felt pretty professional making my own design on graph paper! 🙂 With plans in place, I had a landscaper come in August and remove all the nandina. That is a tough job! I also had them remove the yaupon holly bushes. That may have been a faux pax on my part, as they are Texas natives and good wildlife plants. But they took up so much room and I wanted a blank canvas to work with. Here is how the bed looked with the plants removed. I had a small moment of panic, hoping I did the right thing!

Landscaped area cleared for native plants.
Landscaped area ready for native plants!

Since I was limited to what my local nursery had in stock, I ended up with a mix of native and non-native plants in Phase III of my landscape design. I am loving these native plants and plan to post more about each of them in future posts on Native Backyards:

Native Plants

  • Frogfruit (flowering groundcover loved by pollinators)
  • Wooly stemodia (pretty groundcover with silver foilage)
  • Fall aster (full of bright purple blooms in the fall)
  • Autumn sage (little red blooms that last from spring to fall)
  • Mealy blue sage (big purple blooms that last from spring to fall and always have bees on them!)

Non-Native Plants

  • Mexican honeysuckle (a good pollinator plant with small orange flowers)
  • Mexican feather grass (beautiful but can be invasive in certain conditions)
  • Purple fountain grass (a personal non-native favorite of mine. Native to Africa)
  • Begonia (one of the few plants that will bloom throughout Texas summers)
  • Coleus (I love its colorful foliage)
  • Liriope (already in the bed so I left it for now, however can be invasive in certain conditions)

Our Native Landscape Design – Phase III (2020)

1) Starting with a mix of native and non-natives

Here is how the landscaped area look shortly after the new plants when in the ground in August. One of the landscape design tricks I learned is to use groups of three of the same type of plant, so I tried to incorporate that into the design. I also love grasses so I incorporated both purple fountain grass and Mexican feather grass. They aren’t native grasses, but what was available at my nursery. Eventually, I plan to swap them out for natives. Especially since I recently learned that Mexican feather grass can be invasive. This whole native plant journey is certainly a learning process!

Native landscape design with a mix of Texas native plants and a few non-native plants.
Phase III of my native landscape design, shortly after planting.

2) Watching the plants grow in and flourish!

This morning I stepped outside and took a snapshot with my phone to show you how much the plants have grown in less than three months. They certainly seem to be happy with our yard. They say native plants are easier to grow because they are adapted to local conditions, and so far that has been the case in our yard! I love how diverse the plantings are, but also still distinct.

Landscaping with mix of native and non-native plants in Texas yard.
How the garden looks today (mid November 2020)!

It will be interesting to see how this looks over the winter and into next year. I hope you enjoyed this tour of our backyard landscaping. Let me know if you have any questions!

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2 Comments

  1. Haeley, wow, very cool and with a ton of information. It’s amazing. I am only one Nandina which I agree is not worth having. I will continue to read the rest and figure out how to keep my landscaping more with native plants and serve a purpose besides aesthics.

    Super job.

    1. Thanks so much for checking out my new site Patti! I’m glad you found the info helpful. I am learning so much about plants and their different benefits and drawbacks and I thought others would be equally interested to learn about these things too!

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