Going Native: Landscaping for Your Climate
As we near the peak of summer, temperatures are rising and most of us are spending more time outdoors enjoying the landscaping in our yards and gardens. But your landscaping can actually drain your finances quicker than you might expect, with more water required in the summer for irrigating all those lush plants and greater evaporation due to higher temperatures. With some forethought and planning, however, you can minimize the amount of water you use for irrigation. By doing so, you also save yourself a buck or two as well as many hours of your time, because landscaping for your climate requires less maintenance in the long run. Often, an added benefit of landscaping for your climate is that you help the environment by conserving water, and you may also attract pollinators and native species that are best adapted to the plants you choose.
The Art of Xeriscaping
When I first heard the term xeriscaping, I thought it was actually “zero-scaping,” which turns out to be not too far off from its actual meaning. Xeriscaping focuses on planting drought-resistant plants, often native plants, to reduce the need for irrigation. In Southern California, where I live, this often means planting lavenders, sages, marigolds, and other native or drought-resistant varieties, as well as ornamental grasses, succulents, and cacti. Check with your local garden center for advice on which plants do well in your region. (See also: Xeriscaping to Promote Water Conservation)
Getting rid of your lawn can also be a key factor in reducing your garden’s water usage. Lawns take up a large proportion of residential irrigation and require constant maintenance. By replacing your lawn with native plants, installing a drip irrigation system for efficient watering, grouping plants with similar watering needs, and mulching your soil to reduce water evaporation, you can greatly reduce the amount of water you use as well as the maintenance required. (See also: The 6 Best Lawn Mowers)
One great benefit of planting native plants is that they tend to attract native pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, helping to support the local ecosystem. They also tend to be hardier, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides and insecticides.
For effective xeriscaping, some forethought and planning is required. It may help to have an aerial view of your property so you can plan out how to group plants and how to install a drip irrigation system. You may also want to consult a landscaping company or spend some time picking the brains of the experts at your local garden center or nursery.
While it takes a little extra effort on your end to plan out your landscaping beforehand, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful but low-maintenance garden. Some friends of mine have a few properties that they rent out. They’ve installed drought resistant plants and drip irrigation set on a timer, and the landscaping looks great but is virtually maintenance-free.
If you live in a moist climate and drought is not your problem, you may want to consider planting a rain garden. Rain gardens are gardens that are planted in depressions or basins in your landscape that are designed to absorb the storm water runoff from your gutters, directing the excess water away from your home, and also cleaning and filtering the water runoff. Rain gardens can help prevent flooding and improve the quality of local water by preventing water from being polluted by running over greasy streets and pesticide-treated lawns.
In general, rain gardens require well-draining soil and should be planted with hardy, deep-rooted, and preferably native plants. This Old House has an excellent step-by-step rain garden tutorial should you wish to build one yourself. Be sure, however, to consult local gardening experts to find out the best soil mix and plants for your area.
The way you irrigate your landscaping can also be a key factor in how much water you waste in watering your plants. Sunset Magazine recently ran a helpful article on how to deal with drought by being more thoughtful in your watering. Some of their suggestions include slow, deep irrigation, which minimizes runoff and helps plants to develop deep roots which are better able to withstand dry spells; mulching to reduce evaporation; creating soil basins around plants to concentrate water around the roots; and watering in the cool of the morning or evening to minimize evaporation. You might also want to consider collecting rainwater in a rain barrel and using that to water your plants.
When you landscape with plants adapted to your climate, you end up with a low-maintenance garden that will look good in the long run, will attract native pollinators, and uses less water and other resources.