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During next trip, be sure to peek at residential yards

Published February 23, 2007


As I write this column, I am sitting in my brother's home in central California. I lived in this town the first 18 years of my life, but it has been more than 15 years since I have been here.

Although this is a short trip, I did take the time to walk around the neighborhood and look at the yards.

The houses are about 3 to 5 years old so they have fairly young landscapes. They share many attributes. The most common view from the street is that of a three-car garage with the addition of more concrete, which leads to a side yard with a large double gate. Many homeowners park boats, trailers or other large "toys" in these areas.

The visual impact of the large expanses of poured concrete could have been overwhelming, but the homeowners or builder did try to add some aesthetic touches to the utilitarian aspect.

Simple patterns were made in the driveway and walkways by incorporating the expansion joints and scoring the concrete. Oftentimes the stair risers were stained, pitted or embellished with stones or bricks.

This also broke up the monotony of the plain gray concrete. Stones, bricks, staining or stamping the concrete in large or small areas (perhaps just a border) also made the hardscape more appealing.

Concrete curbing is also very popular here; it is seemingly the bed border of choice. I noticed that most of it is plain concrete, not with the colors and stamped patterns we usually see in our area.

I would say that at least half the yards have the concrete border with probably 40 percent using some other type of material. It is unusual for a front yard to not have some sort of border in place. I saw a couple of homes with the concrete border that had interrupted the edging with boulders of different sizes. It gives the border a less formal and more realistic look.

Of course boulders are naturally occurring here so they don't look out of place. I was trying to think of a substitute for boulders in Tampa, but could only come up with driftwood! I know all the rocks I have in my yard have been purchased at the local garden center.

Another item I noticed was the lack of mulch.

More than half the beds have no type of mulch. Those that have used organic mulch, such as wood chips, use very thin layers. The beds are just racked smooth. I am so used to seeing mulch in beds that it looks a bit unfinished.

I also noticed that all the homes have underground sprinkler systems but not just the typical popups and rotary heads.

Many of the homes have drip irrigation around the trees and large shrubs and one to three small emitters to water individual plants. I have to assume this is done to conserve water. The summers out here are just as hot (usually hotter, often more than 100 degrees) as our summers.

The humidity is missing, but a drying hot breeze is often present. This type of micro-irrigation would make the systems more efficient. The spaghetti tubing used in drip irrigation is often seen snaking its way up the side of a container filled with plants.

Weeds are a large problem here. But then, where are they not? If you limit the area you water, you also limit the area that is attractive to weeds.

Micro-irrigation can be used to limit where the water is placed. It does no good to water areas that have no plant material. They have very little rain here so it looks like alternative methods of watering are popular here.

We have been lucky with the amount of rain we have had in Tampa. I know I am using my irrigation system less, and I'm hoping this shows up on our water bill. Micro-irrigation is a good system to use in our area also. The Cooperative Extension Service has good information on the subject, and you may want to start your research there.

Even if we are having rain now, periods of drought will continue to be a problem. It never hurts to plan ahead. And even in times of plentiful rain, we still need to conserve.

If you have any winter trips planned, take time to drive or walk around a few residential areas. Some of the ideas may work in your own yard back home.

[Last modified February 22, 2007, 07:27:24]

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