Waterwise gardening

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The dry, hot summer has communities across North America experiencing water shortages and waking up to the reality that water is not a limitless resource. Day gardening a smart option As water rates rise and summers get even hotter and drier, water-wise gardening, also known as xeriscaping (xeri is Greek for dry) is becoming more popular. The idea behind water-wise gardening is to get more color with less water. Fortunately, it's easy to do. Goodbye to grass Lawns are the first area to be targeted because the ubiquitous but verdant Kentucky bluegrass we love so much is actually one of the least hardy varieties available and demands well-moistened roots. When well-fed and well-watered it's gorgeous, but it rapidly dries out and becomes unsightly in dry conditions. Instead, something hardier like Buffalo grass, annual rye grass, or blue grama grass. All are drought resistant because they're natives to the prairies and as a result use as 60 percent less water than the average lawn. If you're set on having Kentucky bluegrass, it's best to limit your lawn area. Replace some grass with a patio, deck or other landscape features and gardens consisting of drought tolerant plants. Less thirsty plants If you use a lot of these drought-tolerant plants and plan correctly, you can get away with watering your garden as little as once a month. Choose alternatives plants that are hardier and require less water to thrive during the hottest weather. Looks for plants with broad roots, small leaf sizes, waxy coatings on the leaves, seed longevity – all these are good indications the plant can survive dry and otherwise debilitating droughts. Hardy perennials Among the best water-wise shrubs are butterfly bush, cotoneaster and junipers. For trees, you can't go wrong with locust or oak. There are a host of suitable perennials, among them daylilies, evening primrose, gaillardia, and gayfeather. Also look into plants native to your area, as they will be acclimatized to your specific climatic conditions. Water-wise annuals include cosmos, marigold, and nasturtium. Earth Easy has a good listings of drought resistant flowers, shrubs and succulents as well as a clear and practical guide for starting out. Plan your efforts In addition to using the correct plants, xeriscaping requires some thoughtful planning, which begins before you even start planting. Organize your gardens with groupings of plants with similar water, sun, and soil requirements. This will cut down on your work in the long-run by ensuring the plants are healthier and allowing you to treat entire gardens at once, rather than individual plants. Xeriscape Colorado has some excellent examples of water-wise gardens, many of which are filled with colour and variety. Collect water We send a lot of water down the drain. Use rain barrels to collect precious rainfall and direct water run-off into planting beds. To prevent debris in your rain water – or even worse -- an infestation of mosquitoes -- cover the barrel top with a very fine mesh. If your barrel doesn't have a lid, it's easy enough to fashion one on your own -- just a long as it's covered. It's hard to overstate how important this is; rain barrels are essentially petrie dishes for West Nile Virus. Mulch is a must Another important element of xeriscaping is mulching. Not does this improving the soil through compost and organic matter, mulching helps the soil retain moisture, especially during the hottest months. Be sure to regularly mow your lawn, prune and control damaging pests and weeds that put a strain on plants. Deep water Finally, when you do water, make sure you do so thoroughly to encourage the development of deep roots. A good soaking once per week is preferable to a light watering everyday, because it encourages roots to grow towards the surface where they become vulnerable to heat. Shallow roots are vulnerable roots. By using the right plants and taking a few easy steps, you can husband water and have a beautiful garden that thrives in even the driest of conditions. It's worth the effort. Andrew Hind is a freelance writer specializing in eco-friendly gardening.