We are living in a time where more and more people are becoming aware of the dwindling resources on our planet.
We watch the news and see the effects of global warming. We see dried up lakes. Our local pelicans are in peril.
We wonder about the worlds oil supplies.
As gardeners, generally, we are the kind of people who really do care about this planet, Earth. We can recycle, compost, feed our bird friends, and help others to become educated about good ecological practices.
Here is a suggested step for those wanting to grow in their conservationists abilities xeriscaping.
Xeriscape, taking the Greek word xeros, meaning dry and combining it with landscape, was originally developed for drought-afflicted areas.
The principles of xeriscape today have an ever broadening appeal. With water now considered an expensive and limited resource, all landscaping projects, residential as well as commercial, can benefit from this alternative.
What is Xeriscape? It is simply a method and/or philosophy of gardening that conserves water, saves money and requires less maintenance than conventional gardening.
The obvious benefits of such a practice are as follows:
Saves water: For most of North America, more than 50 percent of residential water used is applied to landscapes and lawns. Xeriscape can reduce landscape water use by 50 percent to 75 percent.
Less maintenance: Aside from occasional pruning and weeding, maintenance is minimal. Water requirements are low and can be met with simple irrigation systems.
No fertilizers or pesticides: Using plants native to our area will eliminate the need for chemical supplements. Sufficient nutrients are provided by healthy organic soil.
Improves property value: A good Xeriscape can raise property values and more than offset the cost of installation. Protect your landscaping investment by drought- proofing it.
Pollution free: Fossil fuel consumption from gas mowers is minimized or eliminated with minimal turf areas. Small turf areas can be maintained with an old fashioned push mower.
Provides wildlife habitat: The use of native plants, shrubs and trees offer a familiar and varied habitat for local wildlife.
To get started, it is important to understand the basic principles of Xeriscape.
First there is planning and design to consider. Learn what plants are available at your local nurseries that are drought tolerant.
Know your garden well. Where is east, west, south and north? Where is there shade a lot of time, or part of the time?
Plan out your garden with plants grouped by watering needs for the most efficient use of water. Know your little hills where water can run off. Know where you may want to retain some lawn area and make sure it will be easy to mow. (Remember, you are now going to use a push mower.)
Consider the planning of each area. Make an area for seating, walkways, visual barriers, dining and play. Large plantings such as shrubs and trees can be positioned to provide natural heating and cooling opportunities for your house.
Secondly, look at soil improvement. The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape does two things simultaneously it drains quickly and stores water at the same time.
This is achieved by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil and keeping it well aerated. Compost is the ideal organic additive, unless your xeriscape contains many succulents and cacti. These species prefer lean soil.
It may be worthwhile to have your soil tested, as most soils tend to be alkaline and low in phosphorous. Adding bone meal can help.
Reduce the size of your lawn or turf as much as possible. When planting new turf, or reseeding existing lawns, ask your garden center for water saving species adapted to our area.
For best results, select plants that are native to our region. Use drought-resistant plants. Select plants for their ultimate size. This reduces pruning maintenance.
Trees help to reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading the soil. For hot, dry areas with south and west exposures, use plants which need only a minimum of water. Along north and east facing areas, slopes and walls, choose plants that like more moisture.
It is very important you do not mix plants with high-and low watering needs in the same planning area.
If compost is gold, mulch is platinum. Cover the soils surface around plants with mulch, such as leaves, course compost, or bark. This helps retain soil moisture and temperature. Organic mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil, and will need more applied from time to time.
Water conservation is the goal, so avoid overwatering. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering for xeriscape because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant.
This reduces moisture loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it is best to water deeply and less frequently.
Finally, low maintenance is one of the benefits of xeriscape. Keeping the weeds from growing up through the mulch may require some attention. Thickening the layer of mulch will help.
Turf areas should not be cut too short. Taller grass is natural mulch which shades the roots and helps retain moisture.
Avoid over fertilizing.
So now that you are inspired to change your ways and start a xeriscape garden, do you run outside and begin to tear out everything in sight? No.
Do not try and do it all at once. Think about your landscape in pieces. Start with easy, manageable projects.
Consider removing a few feet of the grass along the driveway or sidewalk. Plant some non-thirsty cover plants or small shrubs there instead.
Consider replacing the lawn on steep slopes with a rock garden, tiered wall, or low spreading evergreens. As with pavement buffer plantings, the water that runs down the slope from other parts of the yard will be captured by these plants.
Think ease and economy. Try to re-group flowers and other plants so the yard is organized into different water zones.
Use mulches between shrubs, flowers and in the vegetable garden. Research an inexpensive, labor saving drip or soaker water system for no-turf areas.
Think limits. You may have more lawn than you want. You could remove turf from narrow, hardto-water strips and replace it with pretty, drought-tolerant plants.
Take a walk in your yard. Come up with some ideas of your own. Just be realistic about time and money. Xeriscaping slowly lets you allocate both over a span of years.
Cheryl Potts is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, you can call the Master Gardeners office at 784-1322.