At Baird, Hampton & Brown, our landscape architecture team works to create designs that add to the visual appeal of office buildings, plazas, playgrounds, and more. Apart from the aesthetic aspect, landscape architecture is also about being mindful of the various landscapes in which we work, as well as carefully selecting plants that will best thrive in a certain environment.
Municipalities in North Texas and across the country have landscape ordinances, which set minimum requirements for landscape considerations such as the size or quantity of plants and trees on a property. The majority of these ordinances state that landscape designers must use native or well-adapted plants or choose from a list of plants allowed by the ordinance. This list doesn’t vary much between municipalities and tends to include plants favored by most landscape architects anyways and are therefore not terribly restrictive. Although not common, some properties in North Texas are required to have Texas-native plants only, restricting our options.
There is one key motivation behind landscape ordinance requirements: water. Especially in a dry climate such as North Texas, water efficiency can make or break a landscape. Native and well-adapted plants require less water and maintenance, therefore lowering long-term cost to the owner while preserving natural resources. Other characteristics that support the use of a native or well-adapted plant include:
- Drought tolerance
- Heat tolerance
- Typically low fertilizer and pesticide requirements
The most prominent example of a non-native but well-adapted plant in North Texas is the Crape Myrtle. Native to China and later introduced to Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s, they quickly took off in popularity and spread west. These trees have beautiful flowers, attractive bark, tolerate drought, and grow quickly. They thrive in the Texas heat, cold, heavy soil, droughts, and even air pollution, which is why many are surprised to find they are not in fact a native species.
The use of non-native species has drawbacks: sometimes an introduced species will grow too aggressively and crowd out the native plants. As a result of this “invasive” species, the native plants can be severely reduced in number. At BHB, our landscape architect is aware of this possibility, which plants can be invasive, and how they can design to avoid harm to true native plants. Not only are online resources about invasive species inconsistent, but there are also different degrees of invasiveness, requiring the designer to rely on their own knowledge and experience with each plant.
Plants don’t recognize state boundaries or regions, sometimes making it difficult to define “native” species to a specific area. A state like Texas is so large that while a plant may be considered native, it doesn’t grow throughout the state, and would only be native to certain regions.
An example of a Texas native plant is the Texas Sage, a shrub with silvery-green foliage and lavender flowers that will cover the plant in dry conditions. In wet conditions, however, the plant can die, especially if the roots are constantly wet. Parts of the state east of Dallas experience too much rain for the Texas Sage to thrive, while they do fine in Fort Worth and West Texas. So, although a plant native to the state, the Texas Sage is only regionally native due to the vast difference in conditions across the state.
We have many beautiful plants available for use in the landscapes of North Texas but tend to have fewer than other parts of the country. The soil in our region is a heavy clay that doesn’t foster healthy root development, without the pH levels preferred by most plants. Because of this, it is important for landscape architects to take advantage of both the native and well-adapted plants available to them, while remaining cautious of invasive species that can threaten the few native plants in the area.
If you have any questions or are in need of landscape architecture services, email us and we would be happy to help.