By Elden Freeman
It’s difficult not to get a case of the open-air crazies at this time of year. Everyone is pruning and seeding or fertilizing and mulching or aerating and planting. It’s infectious and perhaps a reaction to being cooped up indoors most winters.
While it’s fun to pretty up your outdoor space, it’s also important to be mindful of the impact beautiful gardens and lawns have on our environment. Perhaps the biggest consequence of this love affair with lawns is our unrestrained water consumption. Canadians are already big water abusers, using 350 litres per person per day. That amount jumps by 50 per cent in summer months thanks to outdoor water usage.
Ever heard of xeriscaping? It’s fuss-free gardening and landscaping that uses a minimal amount of water, time and effort. The concept, which is also known as drought-tolerant landscaping and smart scaping, was pioneered originally for desert regions but has spread to water – abundant places thanks to conservationists.
One of the most important things you can do when xeriscaping is to find plants that are native to your area. These are generally plants that sustain themselves on less water. Good selections are drought-tolerant plants that have long roots or succulents that store moisture in their leaves. Other good choices are plants that have fuzzy, waxy or silver leaves that either reflect the sun or lock in moisture.
Before you start planting, consider your soil. Improve it with organic matter. This encourages deep-rooted plants, which means plants can find their own sources of nutrients and moisture buried deep into the ground, unlike shallow-rooted vegetation.
Group plants based on their moisture needs with the more water-dependent plants closer to the water source. This limits the amount of water you need to spread around your grounds. Think about placing plants that are more water reliant in more shaded areas to limit evaporation of water.
Limit your lawn to flat areas that are easier to keep moist. Limit the size and number of these sections by using drought-tolerant plants to surround the areas of turf. For the grassy areas, take care to use drought tolerant species of grass rather than those that require much more water to thrive.
Water turf and garden areas no more often than once per week, but water deeply. This forces the plants to develop extensive root systems. Drip irrigation from a soaker hose reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation by sprinkler systems. Or collect water from your roof in rain barrels.
Mulch the soil to prevent water evaporation, maintain an even, cool soil temperature and prevent the germination of weed seeds. For ornamental gardens, choose mulch that is as natural in appearance as possible and that will eventually break down and become soil. Consider chopped leaves or pea gravel. The best time to lay mulch is in late spring after the soil has warmed, but before summer’s heat begins.
There is plenty of information online about what grasses, shrubs and plants are best for xeriscaping. Favoured perennials are the black-eyed susan and poppies, while good grasses include maiden grass and little bluestern.
The most obvious benefit of xeriscaping is lower water bills, but there are plenty more. Think of the neighbourhood cachet you’ll draw as the house with the eco-garden. Think of the extra time you’ll save cutting your lawn. When other garden beds begin to wither thanks to water restrictions, yours will flourish.
This is a type of gardening we’re sure to hear more about as the cost of water rises and more people warm to conservationist issues. Share this knowledge with your clients and you’ll be seen as – pardon the pun – cutting edge.