As summer fades and the temperature begins to drop a little, it’s time to plan for fall projects in the garden, especially of the hardscaping features in your landscape, which season does not affect (unless it is too hot to be outside, of course). Hardscaping refers to the landscaping or decorative materials incorporated into the landscape.
Fall is a great time to plan and complete garden projects, especially those involving elements of the landscape other than plants. How late or early in fall depends on where you live—it might still be too hot in early fall or you might be focused on planting cool-season edibles. Still, taking care of a few things on the “to-do” list can ease the load in spring. Here are 5 ideas for sprucing up your landscape without having to buy plants.
Replace or repair a worn-out path. Paths in the garden, whether made of flagstone, brick, pavers or gravel, take plenty of wear and tear. If your path is lined with landscape fabric and you see weeds poking up anywhere other than the edges, it might be time to replace the fabric. Landscape gravel often is used for paths, but it allows more water and air to reach weeds than does crusher fine (decomposed granite) or solid concrete. However, concrete does not let water through. A path made of crusher fine with a good-quality fabric beneath can absorb water but choke weeds for years.
Add a border or backdrop. Is there a plant you enjoyed more than others this summer? Do you feel like you need to add some height or texture to your landscape? Think about how you can feature your favorite plant and add interest to your landscape with a rock, boulder, wall or other non-plant item placed behind the plant. Boulders make gorgeous backdrops for native Southwestern plants. It is easy to add store-bought trellises behind climbing plants or just for a backdrop. Or repurpose an old door, window or other item. Add a fun garden-related sign and you are all set.
Build a wall. Whether for privacy, a backdrop, or to separate areas of a garden, adding a wall can bring height and color to a garden. Walls get a little more complex to build, but should not cost too much with a little creativity. Stack pavers to define a raised bed or add a gabion wall. Gabion walls use baskets to hold rocks as the building material. We all know there are plenty of rocks in the Southwest, so stack them neatly and give them purpose.
Make or fix a slope. If you have a plant that gets too much water (rare in the Southwest, but it can happen), consider building a berm or mound or terracing a sloped area of your yard. Control water from a downspout by digging down just enough to help the rainwater flow to a nearby tree, shrub or bed. Add some curve or changes in width for a natural, river-type look, and top with decorative rocks. Now, you have a functional and attractive dry river bed. You also can create a terrace effect with containers, placing a row of short containers before taller ones.
Add color. Color from plants is the best, especially for pollinators. But you can add color with a painted wall, new accent pots (with or without plants) or by staining concrete. Concrete stain comes in plenty of colors and looks, and can add color beneath your feet. Patios, entryways, and small sidewalks all can add color and interest to the landscape with a touch of color.
Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest. Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.