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. Ideas discussed here include wise-watering techniques, rain gathering, choosing condition-tolerant plants, soil improvement, mulching — anything that results in the effective use of a valuable resource.

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…)

Rain Garden Design

Rain Garden PlantsHow to design environmentally friendly, water-efficient gardens using natural rainfall.

Rain gardens catch and channel the environment’s natural precipitation, delivering it where it will most benefit our plants. At the same time they protect the environment by keeping polluted runoff out of municipal storm sewers. They allow water to percolate into the soil where its needed, avoiding erosion. A well-designed rain garden is sustainable, requiring little or no additional water to maintain life.

Unlike active rainwater harvesting, where runoff from roofs, pavement, and other impermeable surfaces is collected and stored in barrels and cisterns, passive rainwater collection takes moisture when it falls and puts it to best use. But its water may also be collected from those impermeable surfaces, like driveways, and channeled directly to growing things. (more…)

Rainwater Harvesting

Harvesting RainwaterHow to reduce water use, save money, and fight drought by harvesting and collecting rainwater.

Rainwater collection and storage systems capture a gift from the sky. They’ve been used for centuries where and when rains are absent. Today, in the face of persistent drought and depleted aquifers, rain water harvesting makes more sense than ever.

No matter how it’s collected or what it’s used for, utilizing rainwater lessens the pressure on our water supply. Rainwater harvest is appropriate in desert climates with monsoon seasons or infrequent thunderstorms as well as regions with adequate rainfall. Like solar-generated electricity stored in a battery, harvested rainwater is there when you need it. (more…)

Growing Self- Seeding Perennial Flowers

Perennial Flower GardenEasy-to-grow, beautiful perennials are an attractive way to fill-in landscape space.

Flowering perennials are a good-news, bad-news sort of thing when it comes to your flower beds. Most of the news about these attractive, inexpensive and easy-to-grow, self-sowing flowers falls into the “good” category.  More good news: the “bad” side of the equation can be tamed with a little advance planning.

Flowering perennials are perfect for filling space in your garden. If you’re sowing them directly into the soil, they’ll come up in a crowd that gives a nice, natural contrast with the annuals we set out as single plants. (more…)

Conifers In the Winter Landscape

Snowy ConiferGrowing evergreens takes planning, care … and water.

Our latest cold snap here in Bozeman is breaking and the forecast says that tomorrow the temperature will rise above freezing for the first time in, well, I don’t even want to think about it. As winter sets in more than a month before its calendar arrival, it reminds us how much we love evergreens. With the leaves dead and mostly gone from the deciduous trees, we never lack in our favorite color. Luckily conifers of all types keep us in green through the long winter.

We in the West love our pines and firs and spruce and junipers. Not only are there native varieties to plant, but grafted or otherwise naturally altered evergreens will also do well in cold and colder environments.The native conifers tend to be water-wise plants, able to exist in your natural xeriscape. (more…)

Save Water On Your Lawn

Watering the LawnTips for using less water when city restrictions demand it.

The drought, widespread and persistent, continues across great swaths of the United States. The effects of climate change and heavy demands on water use have seen formerly reliable supplies dwindle. Cities and counties across the nation, from Williams, Arizona (natch) to Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, from the St. Johns River district in north central Florida to Chanhassen, Minnesota and all across California have put water use and watering restrictions in place. What’s their most frequent target? Watering of lawns.

We’ve frequently considered the water spent on lawns and have advocated replacing them with native grasses or something altogether different. But let’s face it. Kids like lawns, dogs like lawns, and we like lawns too for family activities. We’ll cut back on lawn as the kids grow up. But for now . . . badminton! (more…)

Avoiding Water Stressed Plants

Watering PlantsMake sure your plants don’t receive too little or too much water.

Though it’s not true everywhere — the forecast today for Bozeman includes a 40% chance of scattered showers — we’re fast approaching that time of the growing season when your garden, lawns and flower beds included, need to be closely monitored for moisture. How do we know when our plants aren’t getting enough water? They tell us.

Water stress is the term used to denote any moisture-related problems that plants might have. This includes too much water as well as too little. Water stress can also be caused by the quality of the water given to the plants. Water containing too many dissolved salts or grey (recycled) water that contains pollutants can also stress plants. (Phosphorous, found in many home detergents and soaps, can actually aid plant growth if proper amounts aren’t exceeded… Tip: use natural cleaning products.)

As every gardener knows, determining when plants need water is easy: their leaves wilt. But of course, you don’t want to get to this point. When you spot wilting, you’ve already stressed your plant. (more…)

Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most. (more…)

New Year News

News FlashGMOs questioned, labeling laws, xeric grass, and the popularity of gardening.

— In Europe, the number of scientists and other experts contesting EU chief science adviser Anne Glover’s statement that genetically modified foods are no less risky than conventional, natural grown foods continues to grow. Over 275 specialists have signed a document that states that GM foods have not been proven safe and that existing research raises concerns, according to GM Watch, a European organization that monitors and reports on issues relating to genetically manipulated food sources.

Dr Angelika Hilbeck, chair of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), which published the statement, told GM Watch, “We’re surprised and pleased by the strong support for the statement. (more…)

Landscaping With Native Grasses

Native GrassesNative and ornamental grasses add texture, movement to the xeriscape.

Now that our lawns, garden plots, and everything else is covered in a blanket of snow — a blank slate of sorts — we start to think about how we want them to look next spring and summer. What we’re picturing during this dose of dead-of-winter-in-late-fall weather is grass, not the kind that comes in rolled strips and requires mowing and lots of water. We’re thinking of bold, unique grasses that require far less watering and no mowing whatsoever (though we might be trimming them back in the late fall or winter).

Why are we thinking grasses? For the reasons already stated. They need less water than a lawn and less care. They’re much more adaptable to organic growing without chemical fertilizers. (more…)

Beauty Bark or Living Ground Cover?

Living Ground CoverWe love mulch, but why not fill empty space with something green and living?

Don’t get us wrong. We love mulches of all sorts. But one kind of mulch we’ve seen too much of is beauty bark. You know what we’re talking about. That chipped or shredded bark often bought in bags, sometimes sold in bulk, that’s used to cover bare ground around trees, in various landscape beds, and other open space. It’s become a suburban American cliche.

The stuff can often be attractive, sure; and give off a delicate scent, especially if it contains cedar. It does what mulch is supposed to do: keep down weeds, slow moisture evaporation, prevent run-off from heavy rain. And it does break down and add organic matter to your soil. (more…)

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