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


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

Iris Iris

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.