Summer Landscaping Tips with Joby Bonnot

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This article originally appears in our Summer 2018 Ranch House Journal. 

By Meg Drake

Summer is here, and if you’re anything like me, you’re anxious to complete your summer/early fall home improvements. But, let’s be honest, unless you’re Chip and Joanna Gaines, sometimes it can be difficult figuring out where to start. Rather than delve into a long list of “fixer upper” suggestions, we decided to focus solely on the exterior, or in this case landscaping around the house.

We conducted a quick Q & A about summer landscaping with our our good friend Joby Branch Bonnot of  j. branch landscaping in Houston, Texas. Joby grew up on the ranchlands of the Texas gulf coast, where he was surrounded by open, green pastures. He became interested in landscaping at a very young age before he went on to attend Texas A&M University where he received his BLA in Landscape Architecture in 2003. Joby also studied abroad in Italy where the Italian culture played a big part in his knowledge of landscaping and design.

Joby began his career professionally designing and installing residential landscape for high-end communities in Fort Worth. After making his way to Houston in 2005, Joby utilized his experience working on some of the finest homes in the area before striking out on his own several years later with the production of j. branch landscaping.

Today, Joby and his partner Keith Place are the team at j. branch landscaping and their goal is to create a  “wow-factor” in every design element. Joby was kind enough to share his suggestions for summer landscaping with our readers…

Q: Let’s talk landscaping near the house, which plants are ideal for surviving summer heat? And what plants should one try to avoid planting during the summer?

A: Plants near the foundation of your home depend on a few factors, such as the region you are in, architecture of home/structure and desire of home owner/client.

The Basic rule of thumb is to choose an evergreen foundation shrub for a back layer against the home. Depending on the style of your home, we typically recommend a hearty evergreen shrub that can be maintained at a certain height, typically below windows. Some basic plants that could serve as a foundation shrub are: Azaleas, Gardenia, Viburnum, Hollies, Boxwoods, Indian Hawthorn, Texas Sage, Dwf Yaupons, among others.

We also typically like to “anchor” the ends or corners of the home with evergreen height, but far enough away from the house’s eave. Plants well suited for this area are: Hollies, Wax Myrtle, Magnolia (Little Gem or DD. Blanchard), Junipers, certain Spruce, Cedar and Fir Trees. You can also plant ornamental trees in these locations. Such as: Red Buds, Japanese Maples, Dogwoods, Vitex, Mountain Laurel, Olive Trees, Desert Willow and even ornamental Mesquite Trees.

Also, another important element to consider is scale. It’s important to know the scale of the home versus any future planting.  Before planting any flower beds around the home, make sure you have an appropriate scale for the foundation of the home or for anchor areas (as mentioned above). Nothing is worse than spending money on plants that only grow 12 to 18 inches high against a home that is 25 to 30 feet tall.

Keep in mind, planting in summer can be hard due to the heat and possible droughts. I definitely recommend an irrigation system if planting in summer.  If you live in the Southern or Western regions of the United States, you might even want to hold off on planting large trees (100 gallon or larger) until mid fall (October). However, Xeriscape landscapes can be planted at all times.

Q: If a homeowner is interested in seeing local wildlife close to their home like birds and butterflies? What types of plants might draw these creatures in for a closer look?

A: Typically most perennials that bloom are beneficial to butterflies and hummingbirds.  Durantha, Butterfly Bush, Salvias, Cosmos, Mexican Flame vine, Coneflower, Verbena, Pentas, Rudbekia, Lantana are just a few that Butterflies like.

Hummingbirds typically like many of the same flowers, but also prefer: Daylilies, Columbine, Hibiscus, Coral Bells and Garden Phlox. The brighter the color, especially in reds, the better for Hummingbirds.

Birds typically like trees, shrubs and flowers that have berries and/or fruit. Hollies and other trees are great for birds all year round. They are great for springtime nest habitat and in late fall and winter they often provide berries for food.

Not all of these flowers are found in all regions, so do a little research into what works well in your area.

Q: Any planting tips on how to best set some of these suggestions up for success?

A: Planting all depends on the type of plant that will be planted. Most plants prefer well drained soil, this shouldn’t be a problem if you have an adequate irrigation system.

A soil test is recommended if you plan to plant large trees or if you plan to invest in a number of plants. Most state ag agencies offer free or low-cost soil sample test results. From there, the results will let you know what your soil might need; more PH, iron or any other fertilizers or additions.

For our region (Southeast Texas) we typically like to add gravel and sand below larger trees and some shrubs that typically get fungus or that do not like “wet-feet.” This allows for additional drainage and helps break down clay that’s typically found in the Houston area.

Other items that we add to certain beds are humus mixture and microlife fertilizer. Getting good compost to mix in with existing soil is probably the most important thing to do when starting your bed. I also like to make sure you have 4 to 6 inches of compost/garden mix above existing (mixed in) soil. This application is used for typical color and shrub beds.

Q: Are there any plants that transition well from summer to fall?

A: Plants that give you a good fall color really depend on your region.

Plants that do well in northern climates typically offer better fall color than plants suited for the south. Some maple trees (Drummond) and certain oaks (red) can be used in the south to give you a little fall color. Bradford Pear can also offer a little fall color in southern areas.

Most plants transition well from summer to fall. After summertime, many ornamental plants will start looking “tired” so I recommend adding some late summer plants that give you interest into late summer and early fall. Ornamental grasses are the best plants to give your beds that much needed color going into the fall.

Q: What’s one of the biggest mistakes you see homeowners do when planting/preparing flower beds for summer?

A: The biggest mistake in summer-time planting is not having an irrigation system or not watering plants enough if you do not have a system in place. Also choosing the wrong plants for certain areas is another big one. Make sure you do your research in regard to direction of sun and plant growth requirements. I often see Azaleas and Hydrangeas planted in full sun, which is a death sentence for these plants in the summertime, especially in warm climates. Same with shade plants in full sun. Just make sure you’re double checking each plant’s sun/shade requirements.

Q: Would you recommend consulting a professional before planting flower beds?

A:  It all depends on the size and scope of the project.

If you plan to invest in complete or larger beds around the house, I recommend asking a professional landscaper or getting recommendations from local nurseries, not a big box nursery.

If you’re planning on investing over $5,000 into your landscaping project, I would recommend getting a professional’s opinions or talking to someone who has knowledge of plants that do well in your area. If you have a larger project that requires a master plan (probably around $20,000 up), I recommend getting with a landscape design company in order to develop an actual plan that you can review and implement.

Q: How does j.branch help clients prepare for different planting seasons?

A: I help clients prepare for planting in different seasons; typically twice a year.

In our region we typically plant seasonal change out plants (color) in the spring/summer (April and May) and then again another change out for fall/winter (October and November). These are typically spruce-up jobs that consist of clean-ups, pruning, mulch and seasonal color change out’s.

We plant other shrubs, perennials and trees all year round in our region…once again, with irrigation systems in mind.

Q: What different areas does j.branch specialize in?

A: We pretty much work on anything that is outside your home. From pools, patios, and outdoor living rooms to driveways, lighting and landscaping. Working with the surrounding area and existing architecture or home, we make sure to include our client’s needs and wants into every unique design.

We also strive to make sure we have elements for all senses and for all ages. Listening to our clients and creating their dream outdoor space is our goal. Every detail is important, whether we are installing a large estate in Memorial or we are working on a Japanese garden in Rice Village area, we give each project our all.

To learn more about j. branch landscaping and how they can help you with your next exterior project, visit