How to Plant Shrubs for Landscaping Success in North Texas


In over 50 years of watching my fellow Texans landscape their homes, I’ve decided that probably 80% of new shrubs are planted mid-March through mid-June. Unfortunately, I have also observed that many of these shrubs are poorly planted. I’d like to offer some basic tips that might make any spring renovations you do a little more successful.

Start with a good bed design. Size is important. Things must remain proportionate. Single-story homes need beds that range in width from 5 to 7 feet, with the widest parts wrapping around the corners and widening at the entrance. Two-story houses, because of their greater masses, deserve deeper beds – up to 10-12 feet wide.

Curved beds look more natural. If your goal is for your landscape to look like a North Texas wooded prairie, plant in gently curving beds. Avoid long, straight rows that repeat the lines of your home. Lay a flexible garden hose on a hot, sunny day and determine a pleasant outline for the bed.

If there is grass within this boundary, dig it up and replant it somewhere in your yard or apply a glyphosate-based herbicide precisely with a pump sprayer to kill it without contaminating the soil. This spray should wait until the end of April, once the grass has started growing and is basically all green. Give the weed killer two weeks to kill the grass and you can start working the bed.

Choose your shrubs very carefully. Let the ultra-reliable evergreens provide the framework for your landscaping. Don’t worry too much about them blooming, as the flowers only last a few weeks. You want plants that look great all year round. Most of your shrubs should be dark green types that keep their leaves all year round. Then you can come back with focal points of flowering shrubs or very varied types for little pockets of drama.

Avoid trendy plants that come and go. Ornamental grasses, for example, are not shrubs. They are brown half the year, and brown gets boring fast. Bright yellow plants seem to need iron, and too many red-leaved plants can draw attention away from your home and the landscape itself.

Know the winter hardiness of each species. You will see it described by a USDA hardiness zone. The most recent map (2012) placed the Metroplex and its suburbs in Zone 8, but we’ve had two winters since then that have been much colder than that. The previous map from 1990 which placed us in zone 7 is, in my opinion, probably more accurate.

The best landscapes have only five to seven shrub species visible from any location. If you use fewer types, the garden becomes boring. If you use more, it looks confusing.

Know where the focal point of your landscape is. For the front yard, it’s almost always the front door. Tape your plantings from tall plants in the corners to shorter plants near the entrance. By doing so, you’ll create a visual “funnel” that will draw your guests’ eyes where you want them. Then, if desired, you can add a dramatic accent point such as a tree-shaped crape myrtle or holly 10 or 15 feet from the doorway and just inside this curved bed.

Shrubs look best if planted in groups and clusters rather than in straight rows. Again, your goal is the natural look, and shrubs in the wild are rarely seen in straight rows. Plant them in groups where they will be seen as individuals, but where they will work as a team. Space them far enough apart that they can eventually grow together without crowding.

Think of the texture of each shrub as you put them together like the pieces of a puzzle. Textures are determined by leaf size, growth form, and other characteristics, and you want an appealing combination of textures to make the shrub bed visually interesting.

My final suggestion is that you always buy from a Texas Certified or Master Certified Nursery Professional. You can find them at member nurseries of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association. For the most part, these will be independent garden centers where you can talk to full-time nursery experts.

The last question you need to ask before handing them your card is: “Are any of the plants in my basket wrong?” Let them own part of your decision. Leaning on that professional help will be one of the biggest game changers you can make.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM Saturday afternoons from 1-3 p.m. and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings from 8-10 a.m. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

This story was originally published March 14, 2022 5:30 a.m.

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