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Landscaping to Conserve Water

If you live in an area where water conservation is a priority, you may want at least part of your landscape to thrive without irrigation. (Keep in mind that almost anything you plant needs watering to get it started and for the first year.) The low-water plan shown here works in most climates, with the plants that are hardy in Zones 3 to 8 or 9. Special features of this low-water plan include:

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  • Layered plants: The design is a fairly typical border with the low plants up front, tall ones at the back. Low plants grow underneath the window so not to obstruct the view. Russian olives are the big guys.

  • Plenty of colors: A great deal of silver — from the artemisa and the Russian olive — goes nicely with the blue tones of the junipers, along with the spring flowers of the ceanothus. Seasonal flowers add their colorful punctuation — spiraea in early summer and bright yellow potentilla for a long season.

  • Trees and shrubs that require little water: You can choose from several low-water trees and shrubs at your local nursery.

In cold-winter/dry-summer climates, summers are devilishly hot, except at higher elevations. Low winter temperatures average –20° F (–29° C) and erratic temperature fluctuations can wreak havoc on the garden and affect plant hardiness. Some common challenges of this climate include the following:

  • Generally poor soils: The dirt in this climate is usually stony, sandy, or highly alkaline clay. Humus content is very low

  • Notoriously low humidity: The entire region is exceedingly dry.

  • Unreliable snow cover: Because of the low humidity, snow usually evaporates before it has a chance to soak in.

  • Very little rain: Lack of rain makes watering necessary, but water conservation usually limits the amount of watering allowed.

Water is scarce and precious in arid regions. Coping with inevitable shortages has given rise to the xeriscape movement — combining good horticulture with water conservation to create flower gardens every bit as lush, full, and vibrant as those in more temperate climates. “Xeriscape” combines xeric (a dry habitat or a plant from such a place) with landscape to create xeriscape — literally, a dry landscape. Xeriscape is a system, not a style. A xeriscape can be as formal as Versailles or as casual as a cottage garden. You can’t drive up and down the street and pick out the xeriscapes; only the water bill tells the story. Xeriscaping relies on choosing perennials with low water needs, and then fixing poor soils, grouping plants with similar needs, mulching, and practicing efficient irrigation.

Most drought-tolerant plants employ one or more of the following adaptations:

  • Succulent leaves: Fat, fleshy leaves and stems act as water storage tanks.

  • Large roots: Roots are an underground water storage system.

  • Silver or gray hairy leaves: Light colored, fuzzy leaves reflect intense sunlight and shade the leaf surface.

  • Small leaves: The smaller the leaf, the less surface area exposed to drying winds and sunlight.

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