Ecological Benefits of SmartScape

 

Water Conservation

Texas has droughts. By selecting low water use plants, you will conserve a precious resource. With booming growth a certainty for North Central Texas, we must conserve our drinking water supplies and maintain lake levels to support ourselves, pets, wildlife, plant life and industry.

If you're new to the area, it may surprise you to learn that the average annual precipitation in the DFW Metroplex is between 32 and 36 inches. While that may seem like sufficient amount to support most any type of landscaping, the problem is the majority of rainfall occurs in the spring and fall. The hottest summer months of July and August, when temperatures often exceed 100F (summer 2011 had 40 days of consecutive 100F+), and are frequently the driest. Summer 1998 witnessed 58 consecutive days without rain, while summer 1999 recorded 56 consecutive rainless days. Summer 2000 set the record for the longest consecutive period without rain - 84 days.

Simply put, droughts in North Texas are a reality! To maintain a traditional, non-drought tolerant landscape under such harsh environmental conditions requires tremendous amounts of water. Unfortunately, this is a luxury we can no longer afford. With continued vigorous growth a certainty for North Texas, we must all learn to use our water resources more conservatively or face increasingly restrictive water rationing in the future.

Fortunately, by selecting native and/or adapted plants for your landscape, you can enjoy beautiful flowering plants, shrubs and trees year 'round without draining either your pocketbook or our local reservoirs. Typically, native and adapted plants, once established, require 80% less water than non-adapted species. Even during our hottest, driest periods, these plants will continue to thrive and bloom with only one or two good soakings per month.

Understand that 40-60% of your water bill is spent on outdoor usage during warm weather periods, switching to a SmartScape™; can save you hundreds of dollars, providing that you reduce your watering accordingly. Proper watering of lawns and plants will go a long way towards ensuring adequate supplies of water for our own needs and those of wildlife.

For more information about water conservation, visit http://savenorthtexaswater.com/

Wildlife

Butterfly on Texas Lantana
Many of the plants listed in this guide will provide a habitat to attract and sustain wildlife such as butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and birds.

One of the significant benefits of the Texas SmartScape™ program is that you will be providing critical habitat for our native wildlife. As our region continues its rapid pace of development, open space and natural areas are becoming increasingly rare. This loss of habitat is having a negative effect on many species native to our area. All creatures, big and small, need food, water, shelter and space to survive. By including native plants in your landscape, you will be providing three of these critical habitat components. With a little planning, you can actually tailor your SmartScape™ to attract and sustain butterflies, hummingbirds, other pollinators, or many varieties of other birds, lizards and small critters. We have included the wildlife benefits of many of the plants recommended in the plant selection of this guide. Other resources, such as Texas Parks and Wildlife's Texas Wildscape program can provide you with more detailed information about the specific wildlife value of plants native to your region as well as options on installing the fourth necessary habitat component - water.

Overall, remember one very important concept:

Plant Diversity = Wildlife Diversity!

The greater the diversity of plants in your SmartScape™ the greater the variety of wildlife you will attract. Especially valuable are the plants that form the understory layer in most woodland habitats. These are the shrubs and small trees that provide important food resources, such as fruits and berries, as well as shelter and nesting sites for many species.

Flame Acanthus with hummingbird Photo by Stephanie Kordzi
Photo by Stephanie Kordzi

Pesticides

Research demonstrates storm water runoff in North Central Texas carries pesticides from residential yards to neighborhood creeks, ponds, lakes and rivers. The landscape plants recommended in this guide require little or no pesticides. Texas SmartScape™ eliminates or minimizes the use of pesticides to help fish and other aquatic life survive in North Central Texas waterways that receive runoff. Also the butterflies, bees and other beneficial wildlife will appreciate the lack of pesticides in your landscape.

Eliminating or minimizing the use of pesticides (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) in your landscape is a beneficial move to help remove harmful chemicals from your environment. Most commonly used insecticides are indiscriminant, that is, they are designed to kill a broad spectrum of organisms. When applied outdoors, insecticides end up killing not only the "bad" insects, but also the beneficial ones, such as bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Pesticides also eliminate beneficial species, such as spiders and wasps, which actually prey upon the undesirable species. The negative influence of insecticides does not end there. Anything eating the poisoned insects such as amphibians, lizards, birds and mammals will also ingest these toxins. The multiplied effect of insecticides on wildlife in your landscape is easy to imagine.

How can planting a native landscape help remove these harmful chemicals from our environment? Simply put, plants native to a specific region were able to survive the ever-present onslaught of local pests by evolving their own protective measures. In many cases, our native plants produce their own chemical defenses, thereby becoming unpalatable to most hungry herbivores. Unlike non-natives, our hardy native plants are rarely plagued by major pest problems, thus eliminating the need for pesticides. Furthermore, if you have a healthy native landscape in place, you will be fostering the existence of all those beneficial species that are members of the local food web. This interacting community will provide you with long-term biological control of problem species.

To properly dispose of pesticides, you can visit www.timetorecycle.com and find a household hazardous waste drop off location near you.

Fertilizer

Less fertilizer is better. When fertilizer runs off your yard and into local waterways, aquatic plants (including algae) can experience rapid growth. Under the right conditions, aquatic plant growth, algal "bloom", and subsequent decomposition can reduce oxygen levels in water and kill fish.

Like pesticides, fertilizers are chemicals that often cause environmental problems. In our attempt to encourage growth of our lawns and landscape plants that are not adapted to our stressful North Texas environment, we often make repeated applications of fertilizers. If all the fertilizer applied directly fed the targeted plants, fertilizers would not be a problem. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

Fertilizer is most often applied in the spring and/or fall, the two times we receive significant rainfall. As a result, a high percentage of the fertilizer never reaches the targeted plants, but instead enters our waterways through normal runoff. Fertilizer applied in both urban and rural areas is one of our significant sources of non-point source pollution. Aquatic plants, especially various algae, respond vigorously to these additional nutrients, often creating visible mats that literally choke out small ponds, tanks and slow-moving streams. When these aquatic plants experience a die-back, often in mid-summer, the foul-smelling decomposition that follows depletes the water of its oxygen, resulting in fish kills.

Once again, gardening with natives will go a long way toward alleviating these problems. If you stick to plants local to your region, you will find they are capable of maintaining a healthy, vigorous growth form without the use of fertilizer. The best soil amendment to increase growth and health is organic compost. This method offers a non-polluting solution.

Water is a precious resource in North Texas

 

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