Grow water-wise with xeriscaping
Blame it on La Niņa. La Niņa is the weather pattern that
has roosted like a brood hen on
There is an alternative to brown lawns and withered flowerbeds that doesn't involve copious amounts of concrete or flouting water rationing. It is called xeriscaping, which means to plan and plant a landscape that thrives in low-water conditions. Xeriscaping has a number of facets and recommended practices tend to be regionally specific, but what follows are some general rules for creating a garden that conserves precious water resources and still looks good during the wilting weather that is soon to come.
began out of necessity in the western
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Xeriscaping can be adapted to work in both sunny or shady locations and with any soil type. Both sand and clay soils should have organic matter added in order to increase the water-holding capacity for sand and improve the ability for water to percolate through clay and to reach the plants' roots. A small amount of water-retaining agricultural polymer should also be worked into the planting area. This polymer is sold in the garden section of many "big box" stores or over the internet from nursery or garden supply outlets. It resembles granulated sugar, and the granules expand as they absorb water and dissolved fertilizer. Polymers prevent sandy soils from drying too quickly, and they help to aerate heavy clay as they expand and contract. The polymers make the greatest use of any rain that falls, preserving it and releasing water and nutrients when the soil dries out, eliminating the need for watering in between times.
An additional fixture recommended for the dry garden is a rain barrel. Rain barrels have come a long way from the old oaken bucket. Most are made to blend into the landscape and are covered to keep mosquitos from breeding and algae from growing, some connect directly to a downspout on the home and prevent runoff, and a few have a hose and spigot attached that makes accessing the water easy. Rainwater is the optimum plant hydrator - it is the perfect pH, contains no chemicals and is at a temperature that won't shock the plant. Using water collected from a dehumidifier is also recommended, as it has many of the properties of rain water.
If additional irrigation is needed, then try to use either a drip irrigation system or have microemitters added to the water lines. Both of these use very little water, because they concentrate watering on the root zones of plants and lose less to evaporation than do sprinkler-type irrigation systems. Drip lines can be covered with mulch, shielding the water further from evaporation while masking the line from view.
Mulch is an absolute in a xeriscaped area. Covering bare areas with 2 to 4 inches of mulch lowers the soil temperature u to 10 degrees and keeps the soil from drying out from sun and wind exposure. Mulch should be laid in late spring. This allows spring rains to penetrate the soil surface easily and it insulates the soil against the sustained hot temperatures of summer. If organic mulches such as pine bark, grass clippings or shredded leaves are used, then be sure to top dress with some nitrogen-rich fertilizer. As organic mulch decays it draws nitrogen from the soil, robbing the plants of needed growth food. The added nitrogen, preferably in a time-released form, will maintain nitrogen levels in the soil while it gives composting bacteria a boost.
Finally there is the matter
of plant selection. This varies according to growing zone, but some plants are
hardy enough to be able to thrive in most areas of the
Is there any way a xeriscaped yard can sustain a lawn? As long as the
homeowner can keep an open mind as to what constitutes a lawn, the answer is
"yes." Minimize the use of Kentucky bluegrass; of all of the grass
Whether a homeowner wishes to cut his or her water bill during the summer or if compliance with water rationing is a consideration, xeriscaping affords the homeowner the ability to reduce water consumption in the garden without sacrificing appearances. County extension offices or local nurseries can recommend the best water-wise plant material to include in a xeriscape.