Xeriscape

As water bills skyrocket, as more gardeners move to semi-arid locations and drought becomes a persistent problem, growers of all sorts want to know: what’s the most efficient way to conserve precious water? Xeriscaping — “scape” comes from landscape and xeros, in Greek, means “dry” — is the practice of smart, sustainable water use. Techniques discussed here include wise-watering methods, rain gathering, choosing condition-tolerant plants, soil improvement, mulching — anything that results in the effective use of a valuable resource.

Plant a Thyme Lawn

Grass AlternativeIn an effort to reduce water use and time spent caring for lawns, some gardeners are replacing their turf with thyme. Thyme is an ideal grass alternative. It requires less water, is generally tough (see “walking on thyme” below), drought resistant, hardy all the way north to zone 4 if it’s healthy, and will spread easily to fill in most of the space that you want it to. Best thing: it becomes a carpet of attractive, lavender-colored flowers that lasts long into the season. If you’re looking to replace your thirsty grass with something more xeric, consider thyme.

There are down-sides to putting in a thyme lawn. It can be expensive. When you’re planting plugs of thyme 6 to 12 inches apart, you can burn up a lot of cash fast. Most sources recommend planting smaller areas. If you have a croquet court-sized yard (in other words, large) you might want to consider planting only part of it in thyme to start. You can always go back and expand your thyme planting another season. The other down-side is the labor it takes to get your thyme in the ground. You’ll need to kill off all the grass where you intend to plant first. This can be a slow and difficult process. (more…)

Lovin’ Daisies

Meadow Daisies“She loves me… she loves me not.” Whichever way the petals fall, one thing is certain. We all love daisies. When other flowers are fading away in late summer, daisies stand long and tall, gracing our landscapes with abundant blossoms. Even those of us who’ve seen them invade our lawn and realized how hard the hardy plants were to get rid of love some kind of daisy, even if we hate those particular (usually hybrid) daisies.

The kinds of flowers commonly called daisies are actually a smaller group than what’s in the daisy or asteracae (aster) family. That large group that counts some 600 species includes sunflowers as well as daisies, cone flowers, and asters. Our personal favorites are the tiny alpine daisies that grow above timber in the highest mountain passes. Here in the southwest, annual African daisies are popular for their varied colors and drought resistance. What’s known as the New England daisy or aster — and this is one of the great things about daisies — actually grows all across the country. (more…)

Xeriscaping Principles

Xeriscape GardeningAs many parts of the country move into the dry season (some parts are already there; others have the opposite problem), it’s a good time to consider xeriscaping principles in our gardens and landscapes.

What is xeriscaping? Simply stated, it’s water-wise gardening. It’s not just about the water we use (or don’t) during times of drought. It also addresses our use of diminishing water supplies as demand — from population and housing growth, agriculture, industry (especially the natural gas industry) and, yes, drought — continue to tax finite water supplies. Xeriscaping is a way of continuing to have enjoyable landscapes in the face of less and more expensive water use.

The details of xeriscaping are encyclopedic. They’re linked to local soil, native plant, and climactic factors. But the basic principles are simple, common-sense measures and are easy to apply almost anywhere. Here are the eight principles, with our comments, listed in David Salman and Cindy Bellinger’s aptly titled and useful reference Waterwise Garden Care: Your Practical Guide published by High Country Gardens Publications. (more…)

Lawns . . . Or No-Mow Yards?

No Mow LawnNo mow lawns are gaining a lot of attention and for good reason. In times of drought and increasing water bills, a water-intensive carpet of grass may not be practical. Some homeowners find raising their own organic vegetables where grass once grew a more effective use of space. Others find lawns just too much work and expense, especially when cared for using conventional, fertilizer-and-herbicide methods that result in harmful runoff and other environmental hazards.

Lawn alternatives are gaining in popularity what with the rise of xeriscape gardening and native-plant gardens. Evelyn J. Hadden’s book Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives (Timber Press) makes plenty of arguments for replacing your grass with landscaping rocks and paving stones, with drought hardy indigenous plants, with vegetable gardens, or with shrubs and fragrant mixes of perennial and annual flowers and herbs. But before you plunge ahead, there’s still one important thing to consider… do you really want to get rid of your lawn?

Your friendly Planet Natural Blogger, a firm believer in function over form (but a lover of beautiful form as well), suggests you consider the use of your lawn. Is it a family gathering spot? Do you use it for play and recreation? Do you have children and pets with a need for outdoor activity? Do you like to picnic and just lay out on the grass? For all or any of these reasons (especially that one about children), you have a need for a lawn. But if its just a place to admire, walked on only when you’re mowing? Maybe not. (more…)

Sloping Backyard? Terrace Gardening

Terrace GardenTerracing — building level steps on sloping ground — is a technique that has been used since ancient times by farmers around the world to grow crops and gardens. Think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the beautiful terraced rice paddies of Asia. Terraces are one of a landscapers great tools in steep and hilly country. If your property tilts as much or more as it runs level, you might want to consider terrace gardening in your yard.

As part of good backyard conservation practice terraces can play a role in xeriscaping and water conservation. Not only do they allow you to reclaim space from the hillside to plant vegetables or flowers and shrubs — terraces can be very decorative — they’re also a great hedge against water runoff and soil erosion. They can also create warmer, sunnier micro-climates for growing light-and-heat-loving plants and vegetables. Now — in the dead of winter — is the perfect time of year to start visualizing your hillside alive with tomatoes, trailing vines, and stands of beautiful blossoms. (more…)

Drought and the Home Garden

Summer Garden HeatNo doubt you’ve heard that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. 2012 was also a year of severe drought in as much as 60% of the country. Winter has not alleviated the dry conditions and predictions for some areas see the drought continuing at least into the spring. Lesser known facts: the drought may have done more damage — some $60 to $100 billion worth — than Hurricane Sandi ($75 billion). The drought also contributed to the spread of the deadly carcinogenic mold aspergillis in last season’s corn crop. The fungus is deadly to humans as well as livestock. Scientific American reports that up to half of the corn crop in Missouri was contaminated with the mold. By contrast, 8% was damaged in 2011.

Drought — again depending on where you live — made itself known in your lawn and garden with higher water bills, more pest infestation, and smaller yields. While there’s still some disagreement among (mostly) reasonable people on the causes of our current heat and drought extremes — Global warming? Natural cycles? Some combination of both? — there’s one thing that can’t be denied. We must prepare for more of the same. (more…)

Sustainable Gardening: It’s All The Rage!

Organic VegetablesTips, Principles and Practices for the Organic Vegetable Gardener

By Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Sustainability is a movement that embraces all facets of human endeavor. “Sustainable” means to perpetuate existence as well as to provide sustenance and nourishment. Today, the word is attached to everything from forestry to ceiling tile.

Sustainability is most often associated with the environment and specifically to our landscapes and gardens. What is a sustainable garden? It is an organic garden taken a step further. Following organic gardening practices will sustain soils and plants while it nourishes and sustains your family, both physically and aesthetically. Organic gardening also points us towards other gardening practices that pursue the goal of sustainability by conserving resources. (more…)

Fall In the Xeriscape

Fall GardenWatering in the fall can be particularly problematic. Conditions continue to be dry and trees, shrubs, and lawns need water to avoid stress. Too little water during the fall and winter months can cause root die-off, something that may not be noticeable until well into the next growing season. Water stress during fall and winter can also mean that weakened plants will be more susceptible to insects and disease come summer. Too much water during these seasons can be a bad thing. In areas where there are water restrictions, autumn may require you to do more with even less.

Here’s an excellent article on watering trees and shrubs in the fall from the Colorado State University Extension Service. Some takeaways: shrubs and perennials with shallow root systems are most in need of water during these seasons to avoid root die-off. Mulch is important, not just in keeping moisture in the soil but to prevent soil from cracking (cracks allow cold to invade to greater depths, risking tender roots). Don’t water when temperatures are below 40 degrees; there’s a good chance soil moisture will freeze and damage roots. Water at mid-day so moisture will have a chance to soak into the ground before night-time freezes. (more…)

Compost In the Xeriscape

Steaming Compost PilesIt seems that no matter the problem we face in our gardens, the answer — or at least a part of the answer — frequently includes compost. This is certainly true in xeriscape gardening, the process of using minimal moisture effectively. Soil conditioning is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. Soil that retains moisture while still allowing moisture to move through it is the goal. While there are many amendments that can be added to particular kinds of soil — clay or coarse — to help them conduct and retain moisture properly, the first and best step (because it also adds valuable microorganisms to the soil) is composting.

Gayle Weinstein’s excellent text Xericscape Handbook: A How-To Guide to Natural, Resource-Wise Gardening does a good job of explaining how water moves (and stays) in soil. Water, filtering from top to bottom, fills the spaces around each soil particle. Gravity pulls the water through the soil, but capillary action holds some of the water near the surface. When gravity draws some of the water away from plant roots through the soil and the capillary water is lost, either through evaporation or plant uptake, what’s left is called hygroscopic water, the water absorbed by the soil particles and slowly given up as capillary water between the soil particle spaces vanishes. (more…)

Xeriscape Landscaping

XeriscapingLandscaping with minimal water or only the moisture nature provides was dubbed “xeriscaping” a few decades back and the term has caught on. The word comes from combining the Greek word for “dry” and “landscaping.” Thought to have originated with the water-conscious experts at Denver Water, the city’s municipal water provider, the term has seen growing use over the last few drought-burdened seasons. The principles of xeriscape landscaping are principles dear to organic gardeners’ hearts. Soil improvement, mulching and wise planning are all part of the successful xeriscape. Proper watering is key. And the rewards include savings on water bills (or protecting your well’s ground water supply) as well as healthy, rewarding, easy-to-maintain lawns and gardens.

The practice of xeriscaping, a child of the mountain West, is spreading across the suburbs of the Midwest and South as this season’s severe drought challenges gardeners and landscapers across the country. In doing so, it’s also spreading organic gardening practices to those who never saw fit to use them before. Of course, this can only be a good thing for our environment, for our families, and the future of gardening. (more…)

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