When I was speaking to Kelly Simon of TPWD about wildscaping, one thing she said surprised me at the time. But, in retrospect, it makes total sense. That tip was: at the start, don’t do anything until you’ve taken a year to inventory your property and what’s already going on there.
As an aside, I want everyone reading this site to know that I don’t pretend to be an expert in everything I’m writing about. I am absolutely not an expert. But I’m learning, and, as a journalist, it’s my nature to share what I’m learning, trying to save others from having to do all the research done. Maybe I’m naive, but I imagine there are folks out there like myself who are just getting started on this journey. The least I can do is help them get going. (Plus, it helps me justify all the time I spend doing research.)
I say all that because I have lived in my current home for more than 10 years now, and I haven’t really started to do this inventory until recently. We’ve all got to start somewhere.
Things to Observe
Here are the things Kelly Simon recommends you observe during this year of getting to know your property:
- Where the sun is in relationship to your front and back yard at different times of the year.
- What different types of soil exist in your yard. What happens when it rains? Are there parts of the landscape that hold water better than others? How do slopes affect what kind of water is available for plants? Are there spots that are troublesome where nothing grows?
- What plants currently grow in your yard? Where do they grow and what time of year do they grow? Kelly notes that she moved into her current home in February, and it wasn’t until the spring that she discovered a rare milkweed growing on the property. If she’d started landscaping immediately, that would potentially have been destroyed.
- Which of these plants are invasive or not native to where you live?
- Take note of places that have been disturbed, such as those that were leveled or bulldozed when your house was built.
- Find places where water is prone to sanding after a rain, which areas are prone to erosion when water runs through them quickly.
How to Record What You Discover
Collect all of this information in the equivalent of a naturalist’s diary. It could be a paper notebook or perhaps a digital diary on your phone. In this repository, you should record your observations throughout the year. Make sure you date your notes and include the current temperature as well as where plants are growing. Draw pictures of plants and flowers, or perhaps take photos with your mobile device.
One great resource for this kind of thing is a website called iNaturalist, a site where thousands of professional and amateur naturalists record their observations and help others identify species they aren’t familiar with. Run by the National Geographic Society and the California Academy of Sciences, It’s completely free and is a fantastic community.
The iNaturalist site is a fantastic resource for recording your observations and learning more about the species you discover.
Over the past few weeks, nearly every weekend I manage to wander my yard and take photos of plants — some of which I can identify and others of which I can’t. When I upload those photos to iNaturalist, it uses artificial intelligence to suggest what plant might be pictured. With the comparison mode, I can look super closely at my photo alongside images of a known species, comparing flowers, stems, leaves, etc. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to identify some things with a high degree of confidence. With other photos, members of the community have weighed in with their more-experienced assessments.
I’ve discovered the site has a “Journal” functionality where you can write more detailed descriptions that can be recorded alongside the photos you’ve uploaded and species identifications you’ve made. Another important tool: a diagram of your property where you can note both existing plants and make plans for others you’d like to bring in.
It’s such a great feeling to begin to get a handle on what’s happening in my yard. Some of the news hasn’t been great, though. Much of my backyard is filled with invasive (and aggressive) Bermuda Grass, which has gotten me thinking about strategies for getting rid of it. Even my Lantana, which I thought was native, turns out to be a non-native strain. Clearly, all these observations are just a starting point, but, between iNaturalist, the books I’ve been reading and the Native Plant Society of Texas Landscaping Certification class I took recently, I’m beginning to become a bit more confident.