drenched poppy

At my place all water comes from a well, which makes it sound free. Which is fine, except it costs electricity and wears on the pump. Watering more than the vegetable garden could make for some expensive bills. Instead, I’ve tried to develop a drought tolerant garden. Xeriscaping means gardening with plants that require only the minimum amount of water for a particular area. It is a method used in most arid areas of the country, but works well here, too.

Some plants seem to never need watering, others dry up at the first hint of heat. The trick of reducing watering in my garden was to identify and use plants adjusted to the particular weather and soil conditions here. Even here in the Great Lakes region, an ever-increasing demand for potable water affects everyone, so it makes sense to reduce watering of lawns and gardens. Conserving this precious resource also means I waste less time on this garden chore.

At the same time that water grows precious, easy availability of plants from nursery catalogs gives gardeners the chance to purchase almost any plant we desire. Whether or not it will survive in the garden, or how much labor it will take to make it survive is another issue. A problem many don’t learn until after a plant is placed in their garden. I plead guilty as charged, but I’m tired of wasting money, and even more exasperated about plants that don’t thrive.

How plants react to drought differs. Some wilt and die away. Some wilt and revive at dusk. Some plants such as poppies and bleeding heart go dormant until the following spring. Others have developed leaves that conserve water, and still others have deep tap roots that allow the plant to reach far into the soil for water. Isn’t up to each of us to find the plants that best conserve water within our gardens?

There are many plants that survive beautifully in this area without extra watering. Bearded iris, once finished blooming, prefer not to be watered. Daylilies (Hemerocallis), catmint (Nepeta), bee-balm (Monarda), pinks (Dianthus, and once established), cranesbill (Geranium), poppies (Papaver), moss phlox (Phlox subulata), gay feather (Liatris), Russian sage (Perovskia), Salvia, Sedums, lamb’s ear (Stachys), Thyme, Lavender, spiderwort (Tradescantia), black-eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia), and Artemisia all survive droughts. Bulbs such as Allium, Anemone, Lillium, Muscari, Narcissus, Ranunculus, Scilla, and Tulipa don’t need summer water. Many of the decorative grasses also survive in a rain-water only garden. Once established shrubs like Rosa rugosa, Vibernum, Potentilla, and Ilex are drought-hardy, too.

Hosta are water hogs. They love moisture, but a shade garden without hosta is a bleak place. I love to grow other moisture-lovers so I group them in one garden section which can be easily watered. Perhaps your yard has a naturally damp area where you can plant a shade garden. If not, before planting introduce compost into the soil, and once planted, keep the ground mulched. It’s amazing how long even moisture loving plants can go without applied water in the right circumstances.

Here we have a small area of lawn. It’s in shade, and the grass is not thick and luxurious. However, it only needs cutting once or twice a year. If you have a large lawn area and don’t water it, it will go dormant and turn brown until water is available, usually in the fall. There is not much you can do to xeriscape a bluegrass or fescue lawn except to learn to water it properly. That means forcing the grass to develop deep roots so it is not as sensitive to the surface soil condition. Watering frequency depends on soil type. Lawns on sandy soils may need about one inch of water twice a week, whereas a lawn on clay soil might need an inch or so of water once a week. Empty cat food or tuna fish cans placed in the area being watered can serve as measures–when they are full, turn off the water. If you water in the early morning, it helps cut down on evaporation, letting more water get to the grass roots.

I’m sure With a little research in garden books, any gardener can reduce the water and labor needs of their garden while retaining its beauty. Water is precious during a drought, make sure your garden can survive my making wise plant selections now.

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