Landscape Performance Metrics // Analysis

A couple weeks ago, I went over the process of performing Landscape Performance Metrics. This week I’d like to share a real world project that was constructed a few years ago.

The spreadsheet and bar graph below (click to enlarge) are the results from that project. I did not include the site plan as a courtesy to the designer. My goal is not to criticize. The firm did a great job. Maybe someday I will come across a project that a firm is willing to share.

So what did I learn?

It is easy to overlook plants with a high performance score. There is likely a reason they performed highly. Analyze why. Observe the siting. Check out the irrigation plans. Review submittals to find out what nursery was used.

I also learned a lot about plants I’ve never used before. For instance, the chilean mesquites are performing flawlessly and are one of the best looking trees I’ve seen in San Antonio.

What about the plants that performed poorly? Should they never be used? Absolutely not. Analyze why they performed poorly.  As an example, I believe the ‘Santa Rita’ Prickly Pear, Mexican Feather Grass, and Blonde Ambition Grama grass were overwatered. These are not bad plants. They just didn’t have the opportunity to thrive.

Use these metrics to build a database. Find out what works and try to recreate it. Find out what doesn’t work and try to avoid it. Learn from success. Learn from failures. That’s the only way you’re going to get better.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts. A lot of work went into these posts. Please feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion. It would be great to hear from you!

Landscape Performance Metrics // The Process

What can I say, I like metrics. Metrics give us the ability to quantify complex information and help us make better decisions.

It is important to learn from your successes AND mistakes if you want to get better at something. Performing a post-occupancy evaluation is one of the best ways to do that.

My goal was to create a simple process to quantify landscape performance and provide visual feedback. This metric provides a wealth of knowledge and helps answer many of the complicated questions related to landscape performance. I will use this information to build a database that will enable me to make informed design decisions on future projects.

The planting plan below was developed from scratch (90%) based on a real-word project I analyzed. I decided to keep that project confidential as my goal is not to criticize. I will share the spreadsheet results and talk about what I learned in a future post.

So let’s get to the point. Here is the process I developed:

Step One:
Color each plant on the site plan based on health.

Green =  (Excellent Health)
Yellow =  (Declining/Poor Health)
Red =  (Dead)


Step Two:
Score each plant based on health. Input this data into a spreadsheet.

Green (Excellent Health) = 2 points
Yellow (Declining/Poor Health) = 1 points
Red (Dead) = 0 points

The Formulas:
Landscape Performance Score = Possible Score / Total Score
Plant Survival Rate = Plants Alive / Plants Dead


Step Three:
Analyze the results.

Did a certain plant not perform as expected? Why did it not thrive? Why did it die? Too much water? Too much sun? Not enough shade? etc.

Did a certain plant perform better than expected? Why?

Metrics simplify and help us answer these complicated questions.

Bulletproof Plants // Sotol (Dasylirion sp.)


Specimen. Can be used in mass in large landscapes. Companion plants include agaves, Leucophyllum sp., Bulbine frutescens, and ornamental grasses.

Full Sun

Dasylirion wheeleri (Grey Sotol)
Dasylirion texanum (Green Sotol)
Dasylirion longissimum (Toothless Sotol)

Remove dead flower stalk in the fall.

This is one tough species. Striking in the landscape and a great choices for rock gardens. Tolerates reflected heat. Long-lived but requires well-drained soil to prevent rot. Take caution when planting next to pathways as both Dasylirion wheeleri and Dasylirion texanum have sharp “teeth”. Leave plenty of room to allow this dramatic specimen to stand out in the landscape.

Bulletproof Plants // Cenizo (Leucophyllum sp.)


Informal hedge. Natural Screen. Accent plant.

Full Sun. Plants may become leggy in partial shade or shade.

Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’
Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas Ranger Sage)
Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’
Leucophyllum laevigatum (Chihuahuan Sage)
Leucophyllum laevigatum ‘Summer Snow’
Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’
Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’
Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Brave River’
Leucophyllum pruinosum ‘Sierra Bouquet’
Leucophyllum x ‘Heavenly Cloud’
Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’

Minimal. Renewal or rejuvenation pruning to revive leggy, old, or scraggly plants. A common practice is to prune plants into “lollipops”. This practice is unattractive and should be avoided.

An All-Star species  in the arid garden. Tolerates reflected heat and grows best in full-sun. Requires well-draining soil to prevent rot. There are multiple species and cultivars of all sizes and forms to choose from. With all these options, there is likely a Leucophyllum sp. to fit into any space.

CAD to Site // Landscape Edging

What we draw in CAD is ultimately what is installed in the field. Which is why accurate construction documents are so important.

The purpose of landscape edging is to separate ground materials. Grass from mulch. Mulch from rock. Rock from grass and so on.

While I don’t see the condition below often, I see it enough to do a quick case study. It’s an easy mistake to make. However, in this case , the landscape edging is not only unnecessary and unattractive but also an increased cost.


1850 Linear Feet of Metal Landscape Edging
Cost per Linear Feet Installed = $4.50 (Material, Labor, Profit & Overhead)
Total Cost: $8,325.00

That’s $8,325.00 that could have been saved or applied to other landscape features. Just remember, what we draw in CAD has a cost associated with it, so keep this in mind as you’re working on your projects. Hope this helps!

Bulletproof Plants // Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)


Full Sun. Part Shade.

Most dramatic effect in mass. Great choices for rock gardens, containers, and adjacent to pools. Tolerates reflected heat. Mixes well with fine-textured grasses and other desert-like plants.

Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ Brakelights® PP# 21729
Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Desert Flamenco’
Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Yellow’
Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Dark Yellow’
Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Straight Up Red’
Hesperaloe X ‘Perfu’ PP# 218728 Pink Parade

Remove dead flower stalks each fall. Do not “cut back” healthy leaves (Expect future post regarding this).

Since I have a background in horticulture, a large focus of this blog will be on planting design. It is my favorite part of landscape design. It is also an area that a lot of landscape architects/designers struggle with and writing about it helps to keep me fresh.

So what do I mean by “Bulletproof Plants”? These are the “staples”. Your “go-to” tough plants of the landscape. Not actually bulletproof. Yes, I felt it was necessary to clarify that (Mr. Smarty Plants).

I’ll start out with the toughest plant I know. The Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora). I have seen this plant thrive all throughout the Southwest and Texas. I’ve seen it hacked down to within inches of the ground by scissor happy maintenance workers and come back as strong as ever. I’ve used it in landscapes in the New Mexico desert without even temporary irrigation and watched it thrive while other plants withered away. It looks great year-round but spectacular while in-bloom. It loves neglect and requires very little maintenance. It’s popularity has brought to the market many different cultivars and hybrids that fit into almost every landscape setting.  While worthy of another post, I cannot go without mentioning that there are many other plants within the Hesperaloe genus to consider using in your design.

Let me take a moment to introduce myself.

Hey there, welcome! You’ve come to the right place, my friend.

Let me start off by introducing myself. My name is Jared.  I like to think of myself a modern day version of Bob Vila and MacGyver. Although I’m probably giving myself too much credit for that.

Growing up in New Mexico, I fell in love with the desert, mountains, and outdoors. I like deep-sea fishing, photography, and working on my golf game.

I graduated from New Mexico State University with a BA in Ornamental Horticulture (08’) and Master of Landscape Architecture (14’)  from Texas Tech University.

I hope to use this space as an outlet for my creative pursuits. My goal is to engage, discuss, and connect with those who share the same interests. Thanks for stopping by!