One of my coworkers had a really good question for me today. She has a rental townhouse, and the back yard of it is completely shaded by large trees. That sounds great in a hot place like Austin, but then you have to remember that when there’s no sunshine, turf grass has a hard time. And her tenants have two dogs, who have turned the “lawn” into a muddy mess.
She wondered what I would do if I had a property like that. What a good question! Here’s what I’ve done to answer it:
First I was going to suggest she consult a landscape designer, but ha! She’d already done that, and got a plan full of pea gravel, not her favorite.
I then thought back to my Braesgate house, which was always completely shaded over, even after we cut down one big tree. There, we made a large covered porch, which meant the dogs had to traverse it to get into the house, wiping off some of the dirt, at least. And even before the porch, I’d planted a shade garden full of local plants that like shade (inland sea oats and Turk’s cap are my favorites). That took some experimentation.
Later, we did a landscape featuring that crushed granite stuff for paths, and large stones elsewhere. That worked great, except that, even with landscape cloth under it, weeds showed up like crazy. You need to remember that weed seeds are often air-borne (or bird-borne), so they got deposited ON the rock. The leaf litter from all the trees provided a great growing medium, no matter how hard the lawn dudes worked to clean it all up and put it in the mulched areas.
But, that was my personal house. Would I go to all that trouble for a rental property, my friend asked? The answer to that was a resounding NO! You want the landscaping in any rental property to be as low maintenance as possible, and you sure don’t want to spend money on a fancy design or expensive lawn maintenance people (just having them mow and trim is expensive enough).
The best idea I could come up with was to just mulch the whole back yard, and keep top-dressing it yearly. The mulch would keep the mud down, and look tidy.
What Do You Think?
I don’t think my answer was all that great, so I would love to hear your ideas for keeping a shady back yard in a rental property from becoming a mud pit in the rain and a dust bowl when it’s dry. It seems like something many of us who own rental properties must deal with.