Lug that Hose, Tote That Can -- or Try Xeriscaping
by Carol Wallace
I didn't discover Xeriscaping because I was environmentally aware. I discovered it because I was lazy. Hauling several hundred feet of hose all over the yard, getting tangled in it, beheading plants with it and walking waaaaay back to where it had kinked, then getting squirted in the face for my pains was taking its toll. So I decided to regroup, to rethink the garden -- to save my own energy. Imagine my delight when discovered that I was also helping the earth!
The first thing I did was out of sheer laziness. Some of my plants need a goodly amount of water to survive, but many are quite drought tolerant. I moved the thirsty ones nearer to the hose, or transplanted them to boggy areas of the property where they could more or less water themselves. I grouped all the drought tolerant ones together. Most of the latter can survive any but the worst drought without supplemental watering, so I saved water as well as wear and tear on myself. Taking advantage of the natural conditions of your property, and putting the right plant in the right place is energy-wise gardening.
Since then I find myself drawn more to either native plants (which can exist on their own with no help from me) or at least to non-natives which can thrive in conditions like the ones in which I garden. The hose doesn't even reach certain areas of my garden, but they thrive anyway thanks to these choices.
Another thing I've been doing is slowly decreasing the amount of lawn we have. Too slowly, in my opinion, but not in my husband's - he likes lawn! But grass is a water hog. Where he insists on lawn we've done away with bluegrass in favor of more drought tolerant species. In other cases I've replaced it with another garden, but in several places I've used drought tolerant ground covers instead.
I can create living walls for garden rooms and fill huge spaces that would otherwise have been lawn with shrubbery. It may take copious watering to get a shrub started, but after it takes hold it is pretty self-reliant unless we have a major drought.
Last summer I changed from hose-hauling to drip irrigation. We have a relatively inexpensive system, with hoses that slowly leak water to the roots of the plants that need it. This avoids watering areas where nothing is planted, and uses a lot less water than the traditional sprinklers do. Drip irrigation can cut your water use by as much as 30 to 80 percent! And as a bonus, you'll no longer have to drag that hose around!
You can also cut down on the frequency with which you need to use even the soaker hoses by mulching your beds. A thick blanket of mulch helps to hold the moisture in. It does a great job of keeping weeding chores down, too -- another way to save your energy!
If you follow these practices, you are, whether you know it or not, Xeriscaping.
Xeriscaping is not, as it may sound, the science of desert gardening, or even of gardening without water. It's simply a method of water and energy conservation. Although the principles are essential in low-water areas, they make sense everywhere that people garden.
The first step for anyone who wants to Xeriscape in earnest is to have your soil tested. I know -- you've heard that before, and your plants are growing fine without it. But soil can be improved to increase its water-holding ability, which your plants will appreciate even more than you do. Add manure and organic matter. Add the organic matter from your own to save money and avoid being a drain on the nation's landfills. Make everyone happy. Return nature's bounty to the earth.
For further guidance, check out the Drought Tolerant Landscape Demonstration Garden.
About the Author
Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.