Happy New Year! I, for one, am elated to embrace this new year of exciting gardening opportunities – to reflect on my garden failures of the past and turn them into the success stories of the future! Now is the time to start planning those success stories; for those who fail to plan, plan to fail. And let’s face it, when it comes to gardening, that failure costs us money in wasted plants and water, as well as precious time and energy. It’s my goal this upcoming year to practice more efficient gardening and be more careful with my valuable resources.

Coneflowers and caladiums

Purple coneflower, alongside red caladiums, brings much needed color without breaking the pocketbook.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

Black Magic elephant ears and liriope

Black Magic’ elephant ears add striking texture and interest accompanied by the finer-textured liriope.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis


Lantana not only thrives in the heat, but also attracts a variety of butterflies.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis


Heliopsis is one of many perennials that can color the landscape for many years.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

Asian jasmine

It’s important to mulch around newly planted groundcovers to regulate the temperature of the soil and control moisture.

Photo Credit: Rachel A. Margolis

Every year my biggest time-and-money consumers are mulch and annual color. I spend hundreds of dollars each year and countless hours on these two items alone, only to have wind and water carry away the mulch, and the annuals just wither away as their lives are spent. To reach my efficient-gardening goal, I need to find alternative methods for insulating my landscape beds, as well as alternative options to bring color and vibrancy to my landscape without breaking my back and bank account.

So let’s start garden planning!

My first step is to scope out my landscape beds and see where I can replace mulch with groundcovers. Now, initially I’m looking at extra up-front expense in purchasing the individual groundcover plants and getting them established. But after a year or two, my groundcovers will be established enough to eliminate the need to purchase mulch for those selected areas. (And when that day comes, both my pocketbook and back will celebrate!)

My best choice for a groundcover for both the sunny and shaded locations in my north Texas landscape is Trachelospermum asiaticum (commonly called yellow star jasmine or Asian jasmine). In my region, this is best planted in early spring to capitalize on its vigorous growth. To plant Asian jasmine, I’ll use the following steps:

  1. Till my existing bed to a depth of 8 inches. Amend the soil buy adding organic matter (like Canadian peat moss) as needed to enrich my clay soil.
  2. Plant 4-inch Asian jasmine 6-12 inches apart. The closer I plant them together, the quicker they’ll spread and cover the area – my ultimate goal. (This, however, will require more plants.)
  3. Fertilize with a water-soluble, high-nitrogen fertilizer following planting to stimulate rapid foliage growth. (A high-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer may be added for continuous feeding at the time of planting, followed by another application in late spring and fall.)
  4. Apply mulch around my newly planted Asian jasmine to regulate the temperature of the soil and prevent weed growth.
  5. Keep soil moist as the new plants establish.

My next step toward efficient gardening is to evaluate the areas of my landscape that I want my most vibrant color – my “wow factor.” Since I’m opting out of buying countless flats (and flats) of annuals (although I’ll still have my “hot spots”), here are my options:

Flowering perennials – a wonderful time and money saver. Not only do these plants grow back every year, they multiply! Purchasing one plant or bulb this year can produce many more for years to come – just divide and plant. All that’s needed is patience. A few that have proved themselves in my garden to stand up to neglect, as well as Texas weather, are purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), smooth oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides), Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) and florist amaryllis (Hippeastrum). I definitely will call on these old faithfuls to fill the voids in my landscape this year.

Foliage perennials – my favorite! These gems add texture and interest that jazz up my landscape when flowers fail. Elephant ears (Colocasia), plantain lily (Hosta), lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) and lilyturf (Liriope) are just a few that will call my landscape home this year. The best part is they’re repeat performers year after year, with little to no effort from me!

Now, all this said, I’m not going to totally turn my back on annuals. That would just be rude. I do plan on getting more bang for my buck, though. Here are a few of my choices:

  • Ornamental sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) – a low-trailing ornamental with striking foliage that can take the full Texas sun. Just a few of these plants will cover several square feet, literally stretching my dollar, while electrifying my landscape.
  • Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) – a beautifully striking annual with lush foliage that shines from spring to fall.
  • Caladium (Caladium bicolor) – a relative of elephant ears, this plant adds wonderful rich color and texture throughout summer and fall. Planting bulbs of this species will be more cost-effective than full-grown plants.

And annual “keepers” that have won my heart and have endured the hottest Texas sun are lantana (Lantana camara) and narrowleaf zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia). These vibrant annuals like it hot and only get better as temperatures soar – and they’ll definitely make a welcome return to my landscape this year.

Now that I have a plan, I’m highly anticipating the first breath of spring weather. I’m confident the changes that I’ll make this year will save me time and money in the years to come – creating a little less labor and a lot more love!