Berms in Central Texas

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Title: Member
Joined: 2010-06-24

Now that the snow has evaporated from the new sand pile, here it is in all its glory. The cages are, of course, an artistic statement, rather like gardens filled with sculpture. (They also serve as protection against rabbits.)

The sand pile is half sand (hence the name) and half pea gravel. About two feet (60cm) high, up at the top center of the picture. I stuck in a couple of rocks for looks. 


extreme western edge of Denver, Colorado; elevation 1705.6 meters, average annual precipitation 30cm; refuses to look at thermometer if it threatens to go below -17C

David Guillet
Title: Member
Joined: 2015-01-03

Here's an update on my rock gardening project in Central Texas.  Berms were built on a base of broken up cinder blocks. Several inches of Thunder Dirt were then added followed by a mulch of decomposed granite.  Thunder Dirt is formulated for native plants from non-shrinking compost and decomposed granite and is a popular soil mix for plantings at Lady Bird Wildflower Center.  The berms were part of a project which included mixed borders. Drip irrigation was installed in the borders and it wasn’t that expensive to run drip through the berms.  Once plants are established I don’t plan to irrigate the berms regularly.  The drip will be kept for insurance if there is a serious drought.

            I planted about half the surface area with mostly native plants no more than 12” in height.  The majority came from a plant sale at Lady Bird.  I’ll finish planting out the berms in the spring focusing on small succulents and cacti and plants from the seed list and nurseries I can try from similar climates elsewhere.Here is a list of what went in after the construction:

Acalpha radians

Agave havardiana

Asclepias oenotheroides

Berlandiera lyrata

Callirhoe involucrata

Callirhoe involucrata var lineariloba

Calylophus berlandieri

Chrysactinia Mexicana

Dalea greggii

Dalea purpurea

Dichondra argéntea

Euphorbia antisyphilitica

Glandularia bipinnatifida var bipinnatifida

Heterotheca canescens

Liatris punctata var mucronata

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia

Manfreda maculosa

Manfreda sileri

Marshalia caespitosa

Melampodium leucanthum

Paronychia virginica

Penstemon baccharifolius

Penstemon wrightii

Salvia engelmannii

Scutellaria wrightii

Stemodia lanata

Teucrium cubense

I’m going to watch closely to see how the berms hold out.  As I write, 4” – 6” of rain are predicted over the next four days and the El Niño predictions for the fall and winter are off the charts. I hope the berms are still there by the spring

            I was able to find some nice honeycomb limestone for the berms.  This rock is endemic to Texas and has a honeycomb of chambers caused when seeping rainwater mixes with sulfurous gases in cracks and dissolves the limestone.  The large ones came from a supplier and I found the smaller ones free on Craig’s List. Limestone is usually available for free most days on Craig’s list and honeycomb comes up if you look carefully at the photos and get there quick. I also found a couple of pallets of flat honeycomb to use to edge the mixed borders.





Title: Guest
Joined: 2011-08-20

I really like what you have done and love your plant choices.  I bet that was a lot of fun creating such a cool space.  

Dry garden, little irrigation, 9" precip

Shoshone Idaho USA. Zone 5b-6a

Hot and dry in the summer, cold and snow in the winter.

David Guillet
Title: Member
Joined: 2015-01-03

It was indeed an incredible amount of fun planning the garden. I really appreciated the comments from you folks on the project.  Finding a good contractor who was willing to try something new helped a lot. 

Now I'm thinking about possibilities from the seed list.  I tried starting seed from the list last year using techniques I had success with in the East. Dismal failure.  So I've shifted my volunteering at Lady Bird to the propagation section. Advice and experience there should help.  (Maybe I can sneak a flat or two into their greenhouse!)


Fermi's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2010-03-03


we'll be looking forward to seeing how your berms develop. I remember visiting a native plant center in either Austin or Houston back in 1996 and was impressed with how much color you can get with just using local plants. I especially loved the blue lupins and the orange asclepias which flowered along the highway,



Fermi de Sousa, Central Victoria, Australia Min: -7C, Max: +40C

Title: Member
Joined: 2010-01-31

For sure you will get a lot of satisfaction from growing plants in your super project.  Enjoy!


Ian  and/or Margaret Young ( -here it is usually Margaret) Aberdeen , North East Scotland, UK Zone 8a

David Guillet
Title: Member
Joined: 2015-01-03

Well the forecasts were right.  We got 7” of rain in the early morning of Saturday of last week and an incredible 13” over about 8 hours yesterday.  The berms held up and not a piece of granite mulch was out of place.  No plant seems to be for the worse and most appear to be thriving. These plants need lots of moisture to get established, and they’re getting it to say the least.

What I did notice was a result of the layout of the berms.  There were two, set to face north curving on each end to afford east and west exposure.  Surface water flows south to north and the north facing berms acted a dams forcing runoff to the ends of each berm. The berms themselves were unaffected but it left a mess at a couple of places in the mixed border with a loss of soil and mulch.

I can fix this by digging a couple of shallow trenches edging them with limestone and filling them with river rock. But it impressed on me the impact that berm layout can have on surface water drainage.

So far, so good ….


Title: Member
Joined: 2010-01-31

That was a LOT of rain. Why is there never a happy medium with the weather?!!


I know  that  the effects on surface drainage and storm run-off are often a nasty surprise to householders in the UK who  cover their gardens and driveways with the brickwork we call "lock-block"   or tarmac!

Ian  and/or Margaret Young ( -here it is usually Margaret) Aberdeen , North East Scotland, UK Zone 8a

Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

It all looks very promising, David!

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

David Guillet
Title: Member
Joined: 2015-01-03

This is a copy of a reply to Fermi about how the garden was going 

Things seem to be going well. Most everything that went in the fall has survived this winter so far. It has been a very weak winter to say the least. I could probably count days when the low went below freezing on one hand.  At the moment its 91, 20 degrees above normal and a new record.  Well I guess records are meant to be broken. but I haven't found a plant yet that's noticed. 

Oh, yes we got 3" of rain last weekend. Here's a photo of the berms as of today March 15

Melampodium leucanthum and Tetraneuris scaposa have been blooming since December. 


I have a couple of batches of natives and exotics coming in April from specialist nurseries in Colorado. Its rather late

to put in transplants in in Central Texas given how early the heat arrives.  Will be a good test. Fall is a much better time

Here's a shot of the mixed border

Again nothing untoward. This part of the garden got 4 to 6" of Thunderdirt over clay, topped off with a pecan shell mulch. I've been putting stuff in all "winter" a few from local nurseries and a few from shippers in California. 

The real test will come when we start getting those 100 degree days!





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