Celeste Fig

Do you ever want more function in your landscape than just something nice to look at? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone and we have something for you! Say hello to the Celeste Fig tree; Also known as Ficus carica ‘Celeste’. This handy little tree grows up to 7’-10’ tall and wide in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 -9.

The typical fig producing regions have mild winters and hot, dry summers. Fortunately, even with Houston’s humid weather and frequent moisture, it’s a great area for the fig tree to grow with little to no maintenance and watering! The interesting thing about this plant is that it has large, showy leaves which is not typical of plants that are more tolerant of hot, dry environments. So, if you are looking for a bold, large texture in your landscape design, then this may be a great fit.

I have personally grown this variety as well as other fig tree varieties in full sun, part sun, and dapled shade. A majority of my yard has to stand on it’s own two feet without any care or attention from me, and this plant is a perfect fit for my busy lifestyle.

The Celeste is great alternative to the classic Brown Turkey Fig tree produces a beautiful light brown and purple fruit alongside its classic green foliage. Adding to its low maintenance previously mentioned, it is pest/disease resistant and can produce a crop with a single tree. In the Houston area during years that do not have a late spring frost, I have received 2 crops from my trees – one in early summer and one in late summer.

Want to add even more variety? Then let’s quickly talk about what some of the other fig trees can provide. While looking similar, the classic Brown Turkey Fig produces a very sweet tasting fruit while not being as rich as those produced by the Celeste. Its fruit are also slightly larger and darker. The LSU Gold Fig, for the Tiger fans out there, has an attractive light green/yellow crop with a nice sweet fig flavor. The LSU Purple Fig produces a light red fruit with a mild flavor and high sugar content.

I may be a bit biased, but where is my Maroon, White, or Gig ‘Em fig tree? Just kidding. Another option, the Banana Fig, provides a light green to near yellow fruit with banana colored spots when ripe. Even the banana phone didn’t give you these! The last fig we’ll mention is the O’Rourke Fig. It is easily be compared to the Celeste Fig as it is also referred to as the Improved Celeste, but ripens earlier. A great option for those who do not want to wait or wants their fig crops spread out through the season.

No matter what your taste may be, there are countless fig tree varieties that can add versatility to your landscape while enhancing the look.

© HDG Landscape Design, 2019

HDG on DIY Yardcrashers

20130919_174749HDG Landscape Design was fortunate enough to be selected as the first and only Texas designer for DIY Yardcrasher’s Houston episode.  The California crew and host soon realized things really are bigger in Texas after receiving lots of donated resources from generous local companies including Tomball’s beloved nursery, The Arbor Gate.  We were about to embark on the biggest Yardcrasher’s project in the history of the show, and we still only had the designated 1.5 days available to install.

Thankfully, the design process started for HDG Landscape Design in September 2013, but the design process was the quickest executed in HDG’s history to date. HDG was hired 24 hours before visiting the episode’s property, was notified just 2 hours in advance of the location of the property, was only allowed 30 minutes on the property while the crew was there to ensure no one interacted with the owners, and our team worked diligently in one of Houston’s famous rain events to measure the site and take photos as it would be the last time we saw the property before filming in just 2 months.

To make sure we would be ready for filming on time, HDG prepared a detailed plan, material inventory for purchasing, and site furniture selections in just 4 business days, and the team got to work finding local Houston vendors to support the project. Through this process a major but seemingly minor change was made to the design. The main patio designed with large set Oklahoma Flagstone was vetoed by the show’s producer and replaced with a raised wood deck. This decision was not agreed with by HDG due to the site’s slope, issues with Houston’s climate and floods, and wildlife issues for this particular site located in rural Tomball including mosquitoes and rodents.  For the reference of the reader, it is recommended that a project located any area with known drainage issues or potential flooding (such as areas in and around Houston) includes appropriate drainage solutions in their project’s budget.

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As an additional bonus for the home owners, HDG prepared 3-Dimensional graphic representations of their project to present to the owners on the day the project began in mid-November 2013. These graphics did not give the owners an instant look at what to expect in just 1.5 shorts days from the project’s beginning, but it gave the behind the scenes team including HDG and the producer an opportunity to plan where to shoot footage and final photos from in advance.

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The first day of filming went off with a slight hitch or two.  The “off camera” fun was had to fix the unknowns found on site, and a generous neighbor lent the owner his tractor to remove a particularly difficult tree stump.

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Even in November, it was hot and humid out in Houston, but the behind the scenes team worked hard from 7:00 am – 11:00 pm to make sure we stayed on schedule.

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HDG’s role on this day included project layout, directing the behind the scenes team, educating the host about the types of plant and hardscape materials selected and design intent behind the layout, construction, and small details in the design so it could be relayed to the audience when on camera, and most importantly reassuring the producer that we were staying on schedule with the largest project ever constructed on the show.  By the second day it was evident that our hard work at night after the show left made all the difference in keeping the project on schedule. All that was left included fun scenes to film including dressing up pottery with edible plants, laying out the dry river bed, and putting in final touches with site furnishings.

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By 3:00 pm on the second day of filming, the behind the scenes team and California crew was ready for final photos and filming.  With a short 24 hours of labor and over 20 team members, the seemingly impossibly large project was made possible. For Holly and Barrett, this project finished just in time to host friends and family for Thanksgiving festivities.

Charming Southern Retreat

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By nightfall, the crew and team enjoyed the cool night around the fire pit fitting 12 people comfortably on the seat wall alone.

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The “Behind the Scenes” Team waited silently behind the camera during filming, and then quickly got back to work between takes.

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Home owners Holly and Barrett reflecting on the whirlwind installation.

Find the Charming Southern Retreat Episode on DIY Network Show’s  YouTube!

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

Bulbine

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Looking for a unique and showy succulent for your Central Texas garden? Tropical-looking Bulbine is sure to become the “star” of your garden. Bulbine frutescens, or Bulbine, is a clumping, succulent, tender perennial with aloe-looking leaves and bright blooms.  Bulbine’s tough evergreen leaves grow 18”-24” high and spread just as far. The showy, star-shaped yellow to orange flowers are borne in clusters on the end of a stalk above the plant and have yellow fuzzy stamens in the center.

Not only are the flowers unique and beautiful but they bloom for a long time, from spring to late summer. Like most succulents, Bulbine is a full-sun, low maintenance, low water use plant and is tolerant of most soils except wet.

Bulbine grows in spreading clumps and can be propagated by stem cuttings and rhizome division. Originally from South Africa, it has adapted to the Central Texas and Austin area, zones 9-11. Classified as a cold tender perennial, Bulbine is not a good selection for the Dallas/ Ft. Worth area. While it is reported to survive to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it will show foliage damage at such low temperatures.

Due to its tropical appearance, Bulbine is enjoyed in a variety of ways in the landscape. It can be used as a low layer in a xeriscape landscape or rock garden, or massed as a groundcover, accent or in a container. Apply Bulbine to Mediterranean and rustic landscape styles where you want to attract wildlife such as hummingbirds and butterflies.

Not only is Bulbine similar in appearance to the aloe plant but also contains the same jelly-like substance in its leaves to ease burns, rashes and itches. There are three common varieties of Bulbine, mostly relating to the color of the flower, ‘Yellow’ and ‘Orange’ have corresponding colored flowers. ‘Tiny Tangerine’ has an orange-yellow flower and smaller growth of only a 6”-12” height and 12” – 15” spread.

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Mexican Feather Grass

Nassella tenuissima, more often known as Mexican Feather Grass is a common ornamental grass in Texas landscapes and still referred to Stipa tenuissima by some authorities. This perennial grass can reach 24” to 36” in height and 15” to18” in width. Ornamental grasses in general are grown for a texture and interesting foliage. Mexican Feather Grass has a light and airy texture consisting of green foliage with tan to cream plumes. This grass blooms throughout late spring to mid-summer. Hardy throughout most of Texas, Mexican Feather Grass is a great choice for a low to mid-level accent needing full sun and infrequent watering.20160626_172845

Mexican Feather Grass is one of my favorite grasses to use in the landscape because it provides movement as it sways in the breeze. Its graceful stems contrast with broad leaved succulents, bright flowers, and xeriscaping plants, such as Agave, Red Yucca, Lantana, Salvia, and even boulders and river rocks. Mexican Feather Grass works particularly well as a lining plant for pathways because the leaves and plumes fall over the edges of the path to provide a softer transition and immersive feel. It will self-sow freely which may be beneficial if used in large landscapes and meadows or even on slopes for purposes of erosion control. When used in containers and modern design it would be wise to deadhead the plant to control growth.

Maintenance at least once a year is suggested. Removing gray colored old growth is simple and will allow for more air flow between the healthy grass blades. I have found the best way to manage this is to run your fingers through the blades like you are detangling long hair. The dead growth will remove easily, and it will give you an opportunity to restructure the plant if you found it laying too far on one side.

*Warning: This plant doesn’t like soggy, wet soil and roots will rot in these conditions!!

We love to pair this plant with Agave, Soft Leaf Yucca, Gold Star Esperanza, Vitex, Salvia, Texas Sage, and other Texas Superstar Plants.

Other Names: Silky Thread Grass, Mexican Needle Grass

 

© HDG Landscape Design, 2016

Red Yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora

Hesperaloe parviflora, also known as Red Yucca, is a moderately growing perennial often used in Texas native and water wise landscaping.  It is hardy in all of Texas, the south and into the mid-west, from zone 5 to 11, and requires full sun. Red Yucca is an evergreen plant with long slender succulent like leaves and tall rose pink flowering stalks with small cup like flowers all along them. This plant can grow to be 3 to 4 feet tall and wide in the landscape with vertical or draping flower stalks up to 6 feet tall. It is a great residential design plant due to its relatively deer resistant nature, for example deer will most likely eat the red blooms but will spare the unpalatable evergreen foliage. 20150618_174225

Red Yucca is used effectively in rock gardens and as a landscape accent, and I like to pair it with are Agave, Mexican Feather Grass, Sotol, and Lantana. It is best when used with other desert like plants and in Texas native designs because it uses low amounts of water much like many other Texas natives, making them natural pairings. It provides continued interest in the landscape with its almost year round blooms of rose pink to salmon. Even when not in bloom it does not lose its interest due to its long slender leaves that give it a grass like texture without being too fine. It can provide a great focal feature when allowed to fall naturally over a boulder, when placed next to a dry river bed, or looks great when planted in a bed topped with crushed granite.

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In my experience, Red Yucca grows well in part shade or filtered sun if the landscape design does not require blooming. This can be advantageous as Red Yucca seed pods yields upwards of 50 seeds per pod. It is easy to grow Red Yucca from seed, and with enough moisture the seed can grow without soil. In fact, the humidity near the Texas gulf coast provides enough moisture in the air to begin the growth of Red Yucca seeds while they are still in the pod. This makes offspring once dropped even easier to root, so remove seed pods or flower stalks as soon as the flowers are no longer present to avoid additional future maintenance.

 

 

Other Varieties:

Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ or Brakelights Red Yucca is a variety of Red yucca that features vibrant brake light red blooms. It is a compact new selection with more prolific flowering and exceptionally long season due to its tendency to not set seed pods. It can reach a height of 2 feet tall and is known to attract hummingbirds due to its cup shaped red flowers that are easier for the birds to get pollen out of and are highly visible.

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Endeavoring DIY

20131118_094215If you didn’t read the article on Hiring an Installer, then I recommend it before continuing. The same concepts will apply.  With a DIY project, service must be the highest priority on your list. You will need the help of a team of professionals who have done it before to “do-it-yourself,” and you will need to act as an installation company would to determine when you should install, how long it will take to complete your installation, delivery, material sourcing, etc.

First, find a design company (HDG Landscape Design or Easy Landscape Plan) that will not ask you to install with their company.  Design-build firms have less design experience in a calendar year because a majority of their time is spent selling and installing landscape installations. Design-build firms focus on a short plant list that they have access to or in unfortunate cases they will select materials they know a home owner cannot find on their own in order to encourage an installation with their company.  Design-build firms are fantastic for their knowledge and experience with installation, but they are not likely to be the right resource if you want to save money with a DIY. HDG Landscape Design and Easy Landscape Plan are design exclusive companies offering plant size recommendations to work within a budget, phasing recommendations, plant images and descriptions to assist with care of your plants after installation, and a material spreadsheet for easy purchasing.

The material spreadsheet and plant descriptions are a valuable resource. They will assist you in understanding the design as well as the recommended material sizes to purchase in order to have a landscape that makes sense when it is installed. They will also help you with future maintenance (mulch replenishment and how to maintain plants).  The plant sizes on the material spreadsheet give advice as to how large a plant material should be purchased. Larger sizes are recommended for slower growing plants or accent plants, and smaller sizes are recommended for the shortest layer or fastest growing plant. These sizes can be manipulated to decrease or increase the final installation cost, but be aware that your team has tried to select the best sizes for you already with all variables considered.

Pick a nursery with staff that can make time for you when you are ready to purchase and know about plants and plant varieties. A trained nurseryman will take your material list and go with you to select all the plants you need. If they don’t have the quantity in stock that you need, then they will be able to understand the importance of the particular missing plant in your design and will not recommend something that is not comparable. Even better, they are likely to recommend you to a nearby nursery that does have more of the same plant in stock or offer to call you when they have more in their inventory. For the Houston area, we recommend The Arborgate in Tomball, Texas. HDG Landscape Design has several clients that drive 150 miles round trip to purchase from and gain the expertise of the trained professionals and visiting lecturers at The Arborgate.

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Ask your material sources if they have delivery options.  If you do not have a vehicle that can haul a lot of weight, then be willing to pay for a delivery from each vendor  which can range from $45-$85 (mulch & soil, plants, etc.).

If you are not willing to do the behind-the-scenes work along with your team of professionals, then DIY might not be the right fit for you. Consider comparing the cost estimates in the “Hiring an Installer” section to determine if DIY really is more affordable with the time and effort you will need to put into it.

If you do not know where to start, then it is best to start by Hiring a DesignerHDG Landscape Design provides a well thought out design to meet your needs. It does help to know your goals up front, but HDG has experience with every type of property and knows the right questions to ask to help you find your answers.

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Quick Budgeting Tips

Imagine the front yard of the most beautifully landscaped house on your street. If you like how many layers of plants they have, then calculate how deep their beds are from their foundation. If you cannot measure that, then estimate by assuming that each large/medium shrub in the layer takes up 3 feet of depth and each small shrub/perennial/ground cover takes up 18 inches of depth. Multiply the desired depth of the beds by the linear footage of your foundation (or location where you intend to install plant material). We will assume that you either do not have an irrigation system and will hand water or you know how to adjust your own irrigation system. We will assume you can remove plants on your property without buying additional equipment to do so, and that you already have the equipment you need to install. With only a few variables to consider (standard sized plants (small), new soil, new mulch, no purchased delivery) your estimated cost for a landscaped bed area can be between $10- $12 per square foot without tax.

 

Check out our links below to get a better understanding of costs and hiring professionals.

Hiring a Designer

Hiring an Installer

Hiring An Installer

When you are considering hiring an installer, start by determining what is the most valuable to you. The rule of thumb is that you receive a good value for 2 of 3 things offered by a landscape installation company (or most companies for that matter).  Those things are service, price, and quality. For instance, if you want a very affordable installation, then you may need to find some patience prior to calling an installation company. This may be because you will receive poor quality materials (or worse, poor installation that causes the plants to suffer once your warranty has expired), or you may receive poor service which can make working with a company tedious and frustrating.

I recommend starting with a professional design company (like HDG Landscape Design) that can give you a quality design and additional support materials that will allow you to bid the same design to multiple installation companies. Design-build firms offer design and installation services, but in the past my clients have received partially complete plans from design-build firms which makes it nearly impossible for another company to provide a comprehensive, competitive bid. Landscape installation companies in Texas tend to charge within 10%-20% of one another, and  it is not unusual to request multiple bids for a project especially if it is your first time to hire a professional contractor. The more expensive the company does not necessarily mean you will receive an increased level of service and quality, so make sure you consider other factors about the company to help make your decision about what is most important to you. Larger companies may be more expensive, but they have the purchasing power and contacts to source unique, higher quality materials in bulk and the additional cost you pay for is a higher level of expertise, service, and quality in terms of materials and installation. Smaller companies may be start-ups that really need that one great client to help their business take-off. You may have a lower overall cost but there are hidden risks (such as not having insurance) and rewards (such as not have a realistic understanding of the time it will take to complete an installation which gives you services for free due to their mistake). No matter what the cost, I always recommend requesting information regarding a company’s insurance and a contract with a warranty agreement, change order agreement, and specific scope of work that is signed by both parties.

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Quick Budgeting Tips

Imagine the front yard of the most beautifully landscaped house on your street. If you like how many layers of plants they have, then calculate how deep their landscape beds are from their foundation. If you cannot measure that, then estimate by assuming that each large/medium shrub in the layer takes up 3 feet of depth and each small shrub/perennial/ground cover takes up 18 inches of depth. Multiply the desired depth of the beds by the linear footage of your foundation (or location where you intend to install plant material). With only a few variables to consider (existing irrigation, existing plants, standard sized plants (small), new soil, new mulch, labor) your estimated cost for a landscaped bed area with a minimum depth of 7 feet can be between $20-$24 per square foot without taxes and other fees  (delivery, travel, etc.).

After working with over 25 installation companies in the state of Texas over the past few years it was noticed that many companies have minimum installation fees in order to ensure a project is profitable. I have a lot of respect for a company that cares enough about their business and employees to find the breaking point between a profitable and non-profitable job. I have noticed that it is difficult to find an installation company that offers services for a project with a budget under $10,000. It is rare to find a professional, business minded company that offers services for a project with a budget under $5,000. If your project falls into the category of “low budget,” then consider holding off on your project until you have other outdoor living or landscape needs that meet the minimum budget of a professional company you trust. At the very least, start by Hiring a Designer to create a phased design to begin budgeting. Showing a design to an installation company tells them you know exactly what you want and where you want it which saves them time in the service they have to give you and saves you money (remember the “rule of thumb” at the beginning of this article).

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Check out our links below to get a better understanding of design fees, design professionals, and DIY.

Hiring a Designer

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Hiring A Designer

Photo by Texas A&M University Faculty/Staff
Photo by Texas A&M University Faculty/Staff

There are many types of landscape designers and companies offering design services.  Each company has different goals and approaches to design. Determine what your goals are, what design services are most valuable to you, and pick a design company you trust. Look on the company’s website for a description of the designer’s background you will be working with to help you determine if the designer will be a good fit for you. Most companies that offer both design and installation services (design-build firms) do not have the designer overseeing the installation, so be prepared to work with a salesperson and a crew leader for each part of the process from design to installation. (This is a normal and efficient practice, and companies that operate efficiently will offer a fair price for their services.) It is this type of common practice that makes it easy to use a design exclusive company (like HDG Landscape Design) to design your project first and work with a contractor of your choice without feeling beholden to the company that created your plan.

If you are looking for just a spruce up with seasonal or perennial flowers or the addition of up to 25 shrubs, then working with your local nursery is a FREE opportunity to receive one-on-one assistance.

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If you have a low budget for installation (see Hiring an Installer), then consider designers that can be found remotely online. This will keep your design costs lower so as to not take away from your installation budget. Easy Landscape Plan, for example, offers a wide range of services, but they reduce their design fees by removing extras such as phone meetings and on-site meetings. Did you know almost all commercial properties are designed by professional Landscape Architects before the site is even built? These professionals use their experience and excellent plant knowledge to design without visiting a site. The Easy Landscape Plan team has the same professional design abilities, degrees, licenses, and the experience to do the same for residential properties. It’s a simple process that is a perfect fit for DIY projects like The Sherman Residence in Austin, Texas. Designing with a remote designer starts at $250.

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If you have a lofty or long-term budget for installation and require a professional set of plans with experience and knowledge to match, then HDG Landscape Design might be the right fit for you.  Although we offer our services to any property size and budget, multi-acre, remotely located properties, large scale installations, or phased designs requiring excellent site planning are among our specialties. Working one-on-one with our Lead Designer may cost you 3%-5% of your long-term installation costs (see Hiring an Installer).

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If you are looking for a company that offers both design and installation services (design-build firms), then reference our link below (Hiring an Installer).

Check out our links below to get a better understanding of costs, hiring installation professionals, and DIY.

Hiring an Installer

Do-It-Yourself (DIY)

Planting for Dogs

Many homeowners with dogs struggle with the same problems and ask the same questions. How do I get my dog to stop peeing on my garden? Are there dog pee resistant plants? Are there DOG resistant plants? The truth is, training is the best way to handle plant related dog problems, but there are some other things you can do to protect your plants until the training can be improved.

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  1.  How do I get my dog to stop peeing on my garden?

Providing a dog with their own mulch area or artificial “doggie” turf area is a good solution. Dogs tend to use the same areas, and after a few opportunities to practice they will understand which area has been created just for them. These alternative solutions can be designed to fit with the overall backyard design, and HDG Landscape Design can help with an overall master plan that includes this. Dogs tend to use the same areas, and they will continue to use the areas you ask them to use after a few opportunities to practice.

  1. Are there dog pee resistant plants?

You must research the salt tolerant plants suited for your area to begin to answer this question. Urine, after all, is comprised of many things including salt. As your dog continues to use the same area, the plant’s root zone will become damaged, and seedling germination will be harmed.  For damage in sod areas, try the solutions to question 1 above. If you plan to replace garden plants in damaged areas, then this is a good opportunity to incorporate more salt tolerant plants like Buddleia officinalis, Callistemon spp., and Tulbaghia violacea to name a just a few examples.

  1. Are there DOG resistant plants?

20141126_172750NO! However, HDG has extensive experience designing dog friendly backyards with plants that can handle the bad habits of large or small dogs. For dogs that chew on plants, select a hard wood shrub that is not poisonous to dogs such as Texas Sage. For dogs that trample anything in their path, select a hard wood shrub with a compact form such as Indian Hawthorn.  For dogs that dig, try a more drastic route by adding boulders or large river rock (approx.. 4” -6” per piece) in locations that will protect the root zone of tender plants. In some cases, giving dogs their own “digging box” is a solution to dogs that dig for the purpose of finding a cool spot to rest.

Foxtail Fern

Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii,’ commonly known as Foxtail Fern, is not a true fern, but a showy ornamental shrub with arching, lime green, soft, needle-like leaves. Growing 2’-3’ tall and just as wide, this versatile shrub can be used as a “thriller” in containers, in a mass planting or as a striking accent in the landscape. This shrub is slow growing with white, inconspicuous flowers, producing red berries in the fall. Foxtail fern prefers part shade to part sun and does best with a low to moderate watering schedule. In warm, southern coastal climates it can handle full sun. Another great feature of this shrub is it is low maintenance, needing no pruning, and withstanding lots of stress including moderate drought conditions.

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 Like many perennials, Foxtail Fern can be propagated by dividing the roots and replanting.  It is classified as an evergreen perennial shrub in USDA plant hardiness zones 9-11, but in zones 8 and higher, like the Dallas area, it is unable to withstand the freezing temperatures. However, closer to the city area of Houston it is planted in large numbers, without much replacement, due to the micro-climate the city offers. It has been reported to overwinter indoors or in green houses in areas where it will suffer freeze damage, but can go dormant showing needle loss and turning brown.

As mentioned above, the application for Foxtail Fern is versatile. Because of its low maintenance and ability to withstand every stress but freezing temperatures, it can be used in most landscapes. Primarily, Foxtail Fern is used as you would any ornamental grass or low growing Yucca, for a textural change. It can be designed into traditional or contemporary landscapes as well as New Orleans or Mediterranean style. Because it can take more sun than most ferns, if you are looking for a fern-like feel to a sunnier side of your landscape, this is the plant for you.

Foxtail Fern is often confused with its cousin Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri.’ Commonly called Asparagus fern, it features wispy, lime-green, needle –like foliage, but has a spreading, fast-growing habit and sharp thorns. Its roots are often hard to remove once planted in the landscape and it tends to take over. Due to its aggressive root system, Asparagus Fern is best used in contained environments, like pots on a patio or indoors.

Contributed by Jennifer Cates

Photography by Kristin Howard