Having spent the past week in Texas, I feel compelled to address a few ideas about water conservation and reducing water use in the garden.
Parts of Texas are experiencing the worst drought since the dust bowl. Couple that with the record heat wave and it is easy to see that water conservation is a serious problem. Although we are not experiencing a drought in Utah at the present time, it will come in the future. Wise landscape design can save money and save water.One urban cemetery in San Antonio made a particular impression. Of course the grass was totally brown and dry, but most startling was that the trees were badly scorched and in some cases were totally brown. But despite the tremendous heat and drought there were some plants that were still growing and doing well with the conditions.
With stark evidence of the Texas drought as an inspiration, I started noting plants I saw there or here that survive even under very difficult conditions.
Much of the rest of the country is dependent on natural rainfall for landscape and agricultural watering. They do not have elaborate storage systems nor irrigation systems to provide water at the turn of a valve. In the years when nature is kind, the crops and landscapes thrive.
In the years that she is not, the plants suffer and the crops do not grow. As I travel around and see the tremendous amounts of new construction and the increasing demands on our water systems, I cannot help but wonder what would happen if our plants had to survive on rainfall alone. If there were no supplemental irrigation, what plants would survive? Traditional ideas of planting and maintaining home landscapes are constantly changing in anticipation of such events.
Drought, agricultural irrigation, urban development and growing population place increasing demands on water resources. Water-efficient landscaping is becoming more popular as our water resources shrink and costs rise. Many different names have been given to water-efficient landscapes. These include xeriscaping, low-water use, drought-tolerant, waterwise and water thrifty.
Xeriscaping has been a widely promoted term the past several years. It comes from Greek origins with xeros meaning dry, combined with scape meaning view.
Drought-tolerant indicates the ability of a plant to survive with limited water. Although many survive with very little water, most look better if they have additional water.
Drought-resistant plants may become water guzzlers if watered incorrectly. Waterwise is a term to describe planting and maintaining the landscape according to plant needs.
Unfortunately, many people associate water-conserving landscapes with sand, gravel, cactus, skimpy plantings and a hot, sun-baked look (the "desert" image). They do not have to be this way. The potential beauty of these landscapes is limited only by the imagination. The challenge is to maintain the beauty without wasting water.
A waterwise landscape is balanced and uses water efficiently. Lawn areas, shrubs, flowers and trees are designed along with the hardscape (everything that doesn't grow: decks, patios, sidewalks, fences, benches, gazebos, etc.) Plants are placed in the landscape where they can grow and survive and not where they will be under constant stress.
Select plants for these areas that can grow well, look good and need less water. That way when water becomes more expensive and less available the plant will still survive.
I am the first to admit that I love wonderful gardens. Trees, shrubs, flowers and grass are all part of enjoying a garden. I am certainly not advocating everyone tear out their landscapes and replace them with cinders and concrete. I am advocating the need to look at creating sustainable landscapes that require fewer inputs of water, pesticides, time and other non-renewable resources.
In the upcoming weeks, we will feature several gardeners who practice these gardening techniques.
50 plants for tough places
Scientific name Common name
Acer negundo Boxelder
Crataegus spp. Hawthorn
Celtis occidentalis Common hackberry
Cerocarpus ledifolious Curleaf Mountain Mahogany
Elaeagnus angustifolia Russian Olive
Fraxinus pennsylvanica Green Ash
Juniperus species Juniper
Picea glauca var. densata Black Hills Spruce
Picea pungens Colorado Blue Spruce
Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa Pine
Pinus sylvestris Quaking Aspen
Quercus macrocarpa Bur Oak
Quercus gambelii Gambel Oak
Robinia psuedoacacia Siberian Elm
Artemisia species Sagebrush
Caragana species Siberian Pea-shrub
Ephedra viridis Mormon Tea
Fallugia paradoxa Apache Plume
Juniperus species Junipers
Lonicera tatarica Honeysuckle
Prunus americana American Plum
Prunus virginiana Chokecherry
Rhus glabra Smooth Sumac
Rhus trilobata Skunkbush
Ribes alpinum Alpine Currant
Shepherdia argentea Buffalo Berry
Syringa species Lilac
Yucca species Soapwood and Adams Needle
FLOWERS AND GROUND COVERS
Achillea millefoleum Common Yarrow
Achillea tomentosa Woolly Yarrow
Centaurea montana Mountain Bluet (perennial bachelor's button) Cerastium tomentosum Snow in Summer
Coreopsis spp. many good cultivars to select from
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower
Eschacholtzia californica California Poppy
Gallardia Blanket Flower
Hemerocallis spp. Daylily
Juniperus horizontalis Groundcover Juniper
Linum perenne Blue Flax
Mahonia repens Creeping Mahonia
Oenothera spp. Sundrops
Penstemon cyanathus Wasatch Penstemon
Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian Sage
Sedum species Sedum
Stachys spp. Lamb's Ear
These plants will take very hot, dry conditions with very little water. This list is not meant to be all inclusive because there are many more water-thrifty plants available from local nurseries. All of them need extra water to becomme established. All plants will grow faster and will flower better if they are given more water. It is also not possible to convert a plant that has had abundant water into a water thrifty plant in the middle of the summer.
Plants adapt gradually to their environment and cannot make radical shifts over a short period of time.
Some of the trees are less desirable because of drawbacks including weak wood, pests and obnoxious reproductive methods. All of the woody plants will require at least two years before they can be subjected to water stress. However, they will survive with very little water.