From the Experts: Landscaping Tips for Oklahoma Homeowners - 405 Magazine

From the Experts: Landscaping Tips for Oklahoma Homeowners

Local resources lay the groundwork for flourishing garden designs.

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping

Photo by Shea Hussey.

How does a homeowner land the most luscious landscaping? How does one create a cohesive scene of trees, shrubs, and flowers that not only adds curb appeal but also thrives throughout the years? In Oklahoma — with its clay soils and ever-changing temperatures — it can be a challenge for sure. To grow our understanding, we consulted a few local landscape and garden enthusiasts: Landscape architect Connie Scothorn and garden designer Linda Vater both live for the outdoors. We’ve captured landscaping tips for Oklahoma homeowners to share with you below. 

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photo by Shea Hussey.

Ask the Expert: A Q&A With Landscape Architect Connie Scothorn 

Landscape architect Connie Scothorn is the founder of CLS and Associates and co-author of Oklahoma Native Plants: A Guide to Designing Landscapes to Attract Birds and Butterflies. Several factors must be carefully considered when planning and developing outdoor spaces. Scothorn walks us through a few aspects of her work in landscape design in this Q&A.

Q: What is it like to design landscapes locally, considering Oklahoma’s climate?

A: “It’s the only state that I’ve ever practiced, so I don’t know what it would be like to plant a tree and it grows straight. Most people don’t realize that all of our trees grow leaning from the wind. … It truly is more difficult to plant here than it is anywhere else in the country. We don’t just have heat. We have heat, then we have cold. Then we have drought, and then we have ice storms.”

Q: Do the soils here also pose a challenge?

A: “In parts of Oklahoma City, the soils are great. Other places are sand, and other places are clay. … The best thing you can do if you have clay is to plant a cover crop, something like clover, and the plants will improve the soil for you. The plants will grow down, break up the soil and then add nitrogen and green manure to the soil.”

Q: What topics do you discuss with a new residential client?

A: “The first thing is: What’s their vision? What are they trying to say with their landscape? How long have they lived there? That’s an important question; if it’s a new house or they’re doing something new, like adding a pool, that means that they’ve got an incentive to make some big changes … Certainly we get a lot of input from the house. And then: Are they interested in native landscapes? [With native plants] it’s so much easier, instead of fighting Mother Nature and planting plants that really would rather be in another part of the country or in other parts of the world.”

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photo by Shea Hussey.

Q: You mentioned lifestyle. How does that steer design?

A: “If it’s a family with kids, they may want a pool. They may want to have playgrounds. They may want to have a bigger area than a single person or retired couple. Everyone has different needs, so you’ve got to start with that and what they want.”

Q: What “input” does the house provide?

A: “The client bought the house or built the house, so it already reflects what their design style is somewhat. If it’s a really formal or really modern home, you want to emphasize that and complement the design style of the house. …You want to look at views from inside the house so that you’re not just looking at the streets; you want to look at something really pretty from inside the house too. All of these things work together, as far as how the landscape works with the house.”

Q: Describe a “modern” landscape to match a modern home.

A: “The modern design style is bold. It generally calls attention to itself because of its boldness, and it doesn’t necessarily include a lot of different types of plants. Frequently, it will involve massing of the same plant. But, it will be simpler. It’ll be clean.”

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photos by Shea Hussey.

Q: How would you describe a more “traditional” landscape design?

A: “It certainly would be the opposite of modern. You would have a bigger variety of plants with different textures and colors and sizes.”

Q: What are your thoughts on formal, symmetrical landscape designs?

A: “Formal is much more difficult to do in Oklahoma because, you know, that big tree that you planted on one side of the house could get hit by an ice storm. …It’s not hard to do it when the landscape is young, but as the landscape ages, and you have maybe a 40-foot tree on one side of the house, you can’t just go out and buy a new 40-foot tree to reinforce that formal landscape.”

Q: Do you have a favorite tree?

A: “Shumard Oak is just fantastic. It’s a great tree. Bald Cypress is probably one of my favorite trees, because it has especially great fall colors. Those are probably my two favorites, but, you know, my favorite tree changes about every five years.”

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photos by Shea Hussey.

Q: Why is that?

A: “Well, you know, it’s like, “Where am I living? What do I want to do?” And, “Oh my god, look at that tree across the street. I have to have one.” You know, those kinds of things. I probably notice trees more than the average person. For years, my favorite tree was River Birch, but River Birch doesn’t handle the ice storms we’re having. So, it’s been knocked off the list.”

Q: Since you wrote a book on it, how do you attract pollinators to your property?

A: “If you want to do it right, you should have a variety of plants. If you just planted butterfly milkweed, and it blooms in the spring, that’s great — but you need something for the bees in particular all through the year. So you need something in the fall, you need something in the early spring and you need something in the summertime.”

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a landscape architect?

A: “My favorite part of the job is when I first see the site, when I first see the new client, because that’s when I’m the most creative. … It’s like a new puzzle. When it all fits together as a plan, it is just really gratifying.”

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photos by Shea Hussey.

Planting Ideas: Tips and Top Picks From Garden Designer Linda Vater 

An avid gardener, Linda Vater shares ideas and adventures from her “Garden Inspired Life” through her blog, newsletter, YouTube videos, Instagram posts, television show appearances and more. The self-taught garden designer will be a featured guest at the OKC Home and Outdoor Living Show, held March 22-24 at State Fair Park.

Vater’s English-style garden in Mesta Park, fashioned to match her English-styled home, is her playground where she tends to a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. 

“The style of your home dictates the style and the design of your garden, so the garden should be a seamless extension of the personality and the architecture of your home,” said Vater, adding that a homeowner should also consider the yard’s shade line and the desired shape, leaf type, scale and color of the plants. 

Combining different sizes, colors and textures can make a landscape more interesting. Vater recommends mixing evergreen and deciduous selections “so that your garden doesn’t look completely bare in the winter, when all of those deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves.”

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photos by Shea Hussey.

Once you define your ideal planting parameters, Vater says you can easily find options online, using Google or ChatGPT to procure a long list of ideas suitable for local conditions. Armed with your research and list, you can then go to a local nursery where staff can walk you through more options and offer additional advice. Seeing what’s in stock can also guide selections.

Another tip Vater offers is to look at what is being planted in public parks and medians. These areas are usually overflowing with hearty, proven plants — and great ideas.  

Oklahoma City Home Landscaping
Photos by Shea Hussey.

Some of Vater’s favorite picks for planting:

Yaupon Holly, which performs well in extreme temperatures

Better Boxwood, a new blight- and disease-resistant boxwood category 

– The Southern Living Plant Collection, a great resource for sourcing specifically for our region

Juniper, Mugo Pine and Wax Myrtle, which are all excellent candidates for full sun

Viburnum, which provides a similar look to Hydrangea, is disease resistant and acclimates well to Oklahoma soils

Spirea, which offers a different foliage color

Nandina, a soft foliage that pairs well with evergreen

Plum Yew and Soft Caress Mahonia, good for shady areas

Hydrangea Paniculata, which is drought-tolerant and blooms on new wood

Drift or Heirloom Garden Roses, or other rose varieties not prone to rose rosette

Butterfly Bush, a great choice to attract pollinators that comes in many vibrant colors

Encore Azalea, which blooms in both the spring and fall and tends to be hearty

Desert Willow, Chinese Pistache, Chaste Tree, Cedar Elm, Nuttall Oak, Eastern Redbud, all great tree options

Blanket Flower, Black-Eyed Susan, Sedum, Yarrow, Cone Flower, all great perennials that do well in heat

Interested in learning more about the best landscaping tactics as an Oklahoma resident? Check out this great article on how to choose indigenous plants for an eco-conscious, naturally beautiful garden.