Drought Tolerant Gardens

drought tolerant garden

drought tolerant garden

Tightening budgets and a statewide drought have made saving water in the garden an imperative for the immediate future and beyond. Strategies for water conservation invariably center around garden design, plant selection and irrigation options.
Where garden design is concerned, the amount of lawn should be strictly limited. One of the ways of covering a large space without use of lawn is to divide it into lots of planter beds interconnected by pathways of gravel or DG (decomposed granite).
Alternatively, you can turn a large area into an expanse of DG, which is a coarse, buff-colored, gritty material that compacts into a hard surface. DG should cost around a dollar a square foot to install, including removal of existing lawn, depending on the size of the area and whether you do the work or hire someone else to do the job. One local source for reasonably price DG is Yellowstone Rock and Sand (www.yellowstonerock.com). Once you have your DG ground cover, a sort of landscape canvas, in place, you can create a design of specimen trees and shrubs that can be watered by drip irrigation.
Incidentally, I have found that drip emitters nearly always clog and you are sometimes better off with small open-ended spaghetti tubes spouting water at the drip line of each tree or shrub. You will not only save water, but trips to the produce department as well, if you create wood-framed beds for vegetable growing or plant an orchard of fruit trees where your lawn once grew.
If you do opt for a lawn grass, make it Kikuyu, available from Stover Seed (www.stoverseed.com).
Although it is a sun-loving tropical grass with a ropy growth habit similar to Bermuda, it has a shorter winter dormancy period and greens up more quickly than Bermuda in the spring. For partial sun, you might opt for St. Augustine, although this grass is much more water needy than Kikuyu, which does exhibit some shade tolerance as you move inland from the coast. Although it is not nearly as fine-textured as the tall fescue most people currently use for a lawn grass, a bonus of Kikuyu is its resistant to damage by dogs and cats.
One concept for planting in dry climates divides a yard or outdoor space into three hydrozones based on visibility and use.
The idea is to plant species with a zero to very minimal water requirement in low-use or out-of-the-way areas, such as along a property line, on a slope, or at the back portion of a yard. In areas with the highest visibility and use, such as around a front entry or backyard patio or sitting area, species with above-average to high water needs are planted. Species with a low to medium water requirement are planted everywhere else.
On a sunny property edge, slope or little-used stretch of ground, California natives such as the arboreal ceanothus, which grows wild in canyons and foothills throughout the Valley and blooms in all shades of blue this time of year, flannel bush (Fremontodendron), which has yellow-orange flowers in spring, and palo verde (Parkinsonia), a stately, low-growing tree with yellow-green bark, are recommended. Once established, these plants require little, if any, summer irrigation. Low-water-use shrubs would include cotoneaster and pyracantha, both of which display scads of white flowers in spring and heavy clusters of bird-attracting fall berries, manzanita (Arctostaphylos), and the semi-dwarf olive known as ‘Little Ollie.’
Among the most popular plants are those that require the most water. Azaleas and hydrangeas, for instance, may have to be watered several times a week during a spell of hot weather. These plants, in line with the hydrozone concept, would be placed close to the front door or around the patio, in the ground or in containers. By placing azaleas and hydrangeas at your doorstep, you will save water in their upkeep since, in your daily observation of them, you will only apply water as needed.
Plants for the intermediate hydrozone, those with a minimal to moderate water requirement that would make up the bulk of the garden or landscape, would include rosemary, both upright and trailing, lavenders, sages (Salvia species), New Zealand flaxes (they come in a variety of sizes and colors), daylilies, society garlic, bearded iris, and the wondrous and enormously diverse palette of ornamental grasses and sedges.

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