In the language of our beloved football, we gardeners in Oklahoma and Texas are still in the preseason. Extreme heat rules out aggressive planting before our temperatures begin to moderate in the fall. But there are some things we can do to improve our bedraggled front yards. Here are three ways I freshened up mine.
Create a tree ring. Summer shade is essential here on the fiery Plains. We couldn't live without it. But shade will very often cause our turf grass to thin out, especially under the shady canopy of trees. The extra competition for water and nutrients from the tree is an added stressor.
Why fight it? Create a well-defined ring around the tree. A long section of string tied to the base of the tree aids in defining a perfectly round circle, and some powdered chalk or blood meal can mark the perimeter. At this point usually you can skim off the thin turf from the surface. Dig out or kill off any stubborn turf that persists.
Once the grass is removed and the ring surface leveled, an inch or so of quality mulch will give it a finished, tailored appearance (pictured). You don't need metal or decorative edging to keep the grass in check. A 1- to 2-in trench around the circumference keeps the mulch in place and makes edging a breeze.
Keep in mind that the size of the ring should be in scale with the size of the tree. A good guide is the ailing grass — it can help determine the size of the tree well you want to establish. Additionally the mulch inhibits weeds and keeps moisture in, and the ring serves as a barrier to damage from errant trimming and weed eaters.
Practice some slight of hand. Containers with leggy annuals and burnt foliage look less than enticing. Rather than replanting a new composition, I simply removed the contents and dropped something fresh into the urns on my front brick wall. Out went the tired and scraggly annuals; in went three fresh-as-springtime Boston ferns (pictured). Nothing could be easier.
Remove a nonperformer. I have great affection for anything with a chartreuse leaf. Consequently I've used a lot of Limemound spirea for its color, delicacy and brilliance in the landscape. But it struggles in the home stretch of summer, looking tired and crispy by season's end (pictured). Slowly I am replacing all of it as I find appropriate substitutes.
A corner with its Blue Atlas cedar, boxwood sphere and purple barberry cries out for something golden. So I'm replacing three small, sad spireas with a 3-gallon Abelia x grandiflora 'Garden Star' (pictured).
Its glossy-green and yellow variegation, small, glossy leaves and dainty white flowers continue to brighten up this corner, even in the home stretch of an Oklahoma or Texas summer.