One of Westchase District’s most distinctive features is its beautiful public landscaping, seen in the green spaces along Beltway 8 as well as in the medians and at major roadway intersections. These vibrant visuals don’t just happen by coincidence – they are the results of planners and landscape crews working tirelessly year-round to ensure that the trees, plants and flowers look great no matter what Houston’s unpredictable weather throws their way.
Keeping Westchase District beautiful isn’t cheap – as it’s taken on more projects, the District’s landscaping budget has increased from just under $50,000 in 2004 to more than $500,000 today. “We’ve grown from taking care of a small section of Beltway 8 and a few medians on Westheimer to include all of the Beltway greenspace within the District, trails, lighting, irrigation, pressure washing and street sweeping,” said Irma Sanchez, Westchase District’s vice president of projects. “The costs are substantial, but it all contributes to building higher value for our property owners and they’re thrilled with the results.”
Pruning for progress
Achieving those results means adapting to Houston’s ever-changing climate. “It’s been a heck of a year for plants in Westchase District,” said Katherine Leary, assistant general manager with Landscape Maintenance Services, the company that contracts with the District for landscaping upkeep. “Since last summer, we’ve experienced droughts, floods and freezes, all of which have stressed the area’s ecology.”
Hurricane Harvey, and the release of water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, affected the District’s esplanade reconstruction project along Wilcrest Drive, washing away planting soil and shifting boulders. “Flooding definitely delayed our landscaping crews,” Sanchez said. “Then, after we installed new plants in the esplanades, freezing temperatures hit the area. We’re still determining whether some plants will survive that.”
Leary said in order to stimulate growth and help them survive extreme weather, different plants receive different pruning regimens. “After the freezes in late November and in January, we completely cut back plants like Dianella, Lantana, Society Garlic and Liriope to promote more vigorous growth in the spring,” she said. “On the other hand, with herbaceous perennials such as Oleander we leave the brown leaves and wait until we see new growth before pruning, which helps create a fuller blooming of the plants.”
Water on the brain
Another consideration for the District is when and how much to irrigate. For the most part, the District drains and disables sprinklers and backflow preventers, also known as pressure vacuum breakers, from November through April. But freezing temperatures mean that water lines sometimes freeze and burst, requiring speedy fixes. “After a freeze, we’ve even had water fountains that have sprung leaks,” said Kathy Kaufman, Westchase District’s administrative assistant who oversees landscaping of the District. “Irrigation review and repair costs add up.”
Sometimes the water challenges aren’t coming from within pipes but rather from the clouds. While Westchase District made it through Hurricane Harvey without any major property damage, the heavy rains eroded some slopes along Beltway 8 as well as along sections of the District’s trail network. This required installing additional rocks and sod to curb erosion, as well as pressure washing the muddy sections of trail.
Carts and calls
Another beautification challenge is stolen shopping carts that are discarded at bus stops, left outside apartment communities or thrown in a flood control ditch. “We shouldn’t have to deal with this, but we take on the responsibility of rounding them up and, when possible, returning them to their stores,” said Kaufman. “It’s similar to littering in that people have to make the personal decision to help keep their community looking well-kept.”
“It’s a lot of work, but our landscaping distinguishes the District as someplace special to live and work,” Sanchez said. “Westchase District has some of the most beautifully landscaped public areas of anywhere in Houston and we’re constantly working to keep it that way.”
Sanchez said while she and her team periodically drive around the District proactively looking for issues, reports from community members are welcomed and encouraged. “If you should notice any beautification or mobility concerns such as damaged or missing signs, irrigation leaks, landscaping sight obstructions or trail maintenance issues, please call us at 713-780-9434,” she said.