Keep Your Lot “Unique and Fragile”
That one- to three-acre Texas Hill Country lot you just purchased for your new house?
“It’s unique and it’s fragile.”
Lindheimer Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists’ Arthur Williams can help you keep it that way. For free.
He’s project leader of the group’s Program to Assist Landowners (PAL), which kicked off in 2017 and has served 23 homeowners so far this year on properties ranging from one to 50 acres.
“The kind of people who call me are concerned about the environment,” he said. “They don’t know what they should do with it. They want someone to walk their property and give them general feedback.”
Lindheimer master naturalists will respond to any request from any homeowner, even those living in subdivisions with much smaller lots. It’s not uncommon for two naturalists to visit at a single time, since their specialties differ.
“The goal is to protect the Hill Country,” Williams said. “People who are newcomers, buying in a new subdivision selling off one- to three-acre lots, which are very common in Comal County, would probably benefit from a visit from master naturalists.”
These experts help with
- Planting butterfly and bird-attractor gardens;
- Preventing or slowing erosion;
- Identifying appropriate trees and plants for landscaping;
- Identifying plants and trees already on the property;
- Identifying invasives that should be removed;
- Advising homeowners about replacing existing landscaping with native species.
“One of the biggest problems we have found is that people come from Houston and want to put in a lawn,” he said. “The Hill Country traditionally supported tall grasses, not short ones like St. Augustine or Zoysia grasses. They’re thirsty, need a lot of water, and don’t stand up to the heavy rainstorms we get. We encourage homeowners, landowners, really, to leave at least a part of their property in tall grasses.”
Williams said tall grasses grow best in Comal County. They seed themselves, and don’t require watering and supplemental fertilizing.
“They wave in the breeze and they have their own colors if you allow a variety of them to grow.”
Another no-no is allowing contractors to bulldoze all of the native shrubs and plants that are home to birds, raccons, foxes and coyotes.
“That’s probably the most serious mistake you can make, because people who come out to the property before they buy see birds fluttering in the trees,” he said. “Clear-cutting makes the birds and other small animals disappear. They live in this undergrowth.”
Most people who who drive along FM 306 past Hunter Road, which leads to Gruene, probably aren’t aware they’re leaving the blackland prairie of New Braunfels and entering the balcones escarpment region, where the Texas Hill Country begins, he said.
Heavy clay soil turns alkaline and rocky. Limestone lies beneath the Canyon Lake area.
Purists might argue the Canyon Lake area was once an oak savannah and that clearing brush returns the land to its natural, pristine condition.
The arrival of Europeans and subsequent cattle grazing ended the era of rampant wildfires that routinely cleared out the scrub, Williams said.
But it also resulted in the “invasion” of ashe juniper, now one of the most-common trees in the area. Juniper forms cedar breaks on limestone hillsides and provides shade and captures moisture for seedlings.
Drought conditions can turn juniper and other undergrowth into fire hazards for houses, Williams said. But all master naturalists are Firewise-certified by the Texas Forestry Service.
“We will look at the house they are putting in, and tell them how to grow trees and shrubs that under eaves might be dangerous,” he said.
“It’s a balancing act.”
Another big concern for newcomers is understanding oak wilt and dealing with trees that look like they’re in distress.
“That is a topic that many homeowners have contacted us about,” Williams said.
Place boards around trees to protect them from heavy equipment, he also advised.
For more information or, to schedule a visit, call Comal County AgriLife Extension office at 830-620-3440 or visit https://txmn.org/lindheimer/.