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This is my dad's yard. He wants to pull out the grass and put in low water use plants. The yard is against a canyon to the east, so full sun in the morning. There is a Pine tree in the southeast corner that drops needles in the yard. It casts a small shadow across the yard in all but the very middle of summer.
Our biggest concern is the Chinese elm shown on the left of the picture. It keeps the yard in full shade after about 10 or 11 in the morning. It can be pruned back periodically to allow for more sun exposure. Our biggest concern is the amount of debris that it drops. If you are not familiar with these trees, there is only about three months of the year that it isn't dropping something. Pollen in the spring, then seed, then about six months of leaves. That's a lot debris to rake from around plants.
We imagined mulching around the plantings, but the seeds that drop will need to be collected or we'll have baby elms everywhere. The only thing I can think of is scratching the idea of mulch and bringing in decomposed granite to cover everything. Then he'll be able to rake.
You are correct - tearing out the grass would create an even better home for elm seeds - pretty high maintenance. Raking small gravel might work - you would want it small enough not to create cracks and crannies for the elm seeds. Also, you have to be careful how you get rid of the grass. If you do too much damage to the Elm's roots, you will kill it outright. If there is too drastic a change in how much water it gets, then you may still kill it. That is one way of taking care of the problem elm - but probably not the solution you want.
David, I converted lawn to garden about 6 years ago. I keep beds mulched with leaves and tho there are lots of seeds blown in by the wind, they really dont germinate except in some of my potted plants that grow outdoors. I have some flagstone? paths made of broken concrete and the beds. I use some "vigorous" natives that re-seed heavily but because of the mulch, I dont get seedlings in the beds. I would let the elm leaves lie wherever they fall or sweep them off any paths and into the beds and not worry about the seeds either. I did not dig or poison my sod. I just covered it all with leaves, (collected from all my neighbors) in the fall and kept adding to it, keeping it about 4" thick. The permaculture folks put thick newspaper or cardboard down first, then the leaves. They call it lasagna gardening. I used only leaves. I started with pen and paper and drew my beds and paths. In the spring, I began to plant some plants. I had about 4 focal points where I designed like I was doing a flower arrangement in a vase. Tall shrub or small tree, shorter shrubs, low growing shrubs and ground covers at the edge. I kept in mind the seasons they might bloom and the colors of the foliage to make a nice "bouquet". Im still working on it as I tweak it for color and season and drought hardiness.
I hate to say this but the Chinese elm is one of the more cleaner trees out there that works in 9b type environments. Perhaps you see different behavior but I find that it never drops leaves until winter when it recycles everything in about a two week period. The seeds are annoying but I find that my birds go nuts over them and I have only had four suckers in seven years with this tree. I think if you replace it, you will find it just as messy.
In regard to sun, many of the plants that you may like would appreciate a little shade so I think it works into your design just fine. I would not let the tree be a show stopper for moving to Xeriscape. You largest challenge will be removing the grass by far. I would start NOW because you will want to kill it as it tries to grow in spring and early summer..
Thank you all for your responses. It must have been in the cacti and succulent forum where I added that my Dad lives in San Diego. Pretty big difference from Vegas.
I'm not sure what he was planning to do with the grass. His first instinct would be to cut it out. Almost like sod if possible. One issue of laying down cardboard and topping would be the increase in elevation. I know in the heaviest rains the patio floods. It doesn't happen often. Maybe every 5-10 years. When that happens the water must run along the south side of the house to the street in front. It would be a good idea to trench a drain out past the yard when does the project.
Ogrejelly, what kinds of birds do you have and could you send him some? If left alone, I'm convinced that each and every seed would sprout. Raking the seeds/leaves and mowing the lawn was my job growing up. I was always pulling small trees out of the ground. I felt like Paul Bunion. Without the blue Ox.
I'll warn him about the tree roots, whichever way he goes. Also it's not looking like he'll do it this year. He'll be busy with work in April. In May we're going to Key West for my brother in law's retirement ceremony. He might start in June, but he hasn't talked about it.
I'll keep you all posted when anything happens. Or if we have more questions.
David, I appreciate that weeding seedlings must have seemed interminable for you as a boy. I was a girl, but there WAS no boy the right age to shovel or mow or whatever, so oftentimes it ended up being my job despite any previous plans to the contrary. Anyway, I was just thinking, now that I'm the one passing out the chores, from this end they don't seem so bad. Is the detritus from this tree as bad as your childhood memories? Could a landscaping company come by a few times a year and do it for your dad? Best of luck!
There is a new book out by Pam Penick; Lawn Gone!. The beautiful pictures are great, but the narrative gives a lot of information. I have began Xeriscaping my back yard in Florida. Another great author is Debra Lee Baldwin (Succulent Queen). She is right there in California, and may be giving a seminar near him. In his location just about any landscaping company will be able to give him what he wants. Check out my posts. I have almost dug up my whole back yard.lol! The key to Xeriscaping is to manage the water flow in all areas. I used terracing and an Arroyo. Keep us posted!
My garden is in Palm Springs, so the climate is similar to that in Vegas. I have had three different schemes in the exact same combination of sun and shade you described before the current one, none of which survived. A particular concern is the angle of sun in the winter vs summer, which can potentially impact some of your space as well. I am happy to report a mix of Euphorbias in place for three years has done quite well. They don't like much water and will appreciate the relief your tree provides from the hottest afternoon sun. There are over a hundred varieties, so you have a broad pallet from which to work. One caution: They drip a milky sap when cut that is poisonous, so that would be a concern if there are children around. Good luck.