In New Mexico, where my mother lives, the evening news occasionally exposes overzealous gardeners violating water restrictions. The camera pans over verdant lawns and voluminous flowerbeds, while the anchorperson intones disapprovingly about the residents using more than their share of water.
Water is a precious commodity in the desert, but even if you don't live in a community where there are restrictions, conserving water is always a good idea. For gardeners in any part of the country, one of the most eco-friendly ways of conserving water is by making sure your gardens are planted with drought-resistant plants that are native to your area and that require little or no watering beyond the occasional rainstorm. This technique is called xeriscape, and when it's done right, it will use less water, eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and will require less time and maintenance from you than other gardens might.
To create your own xeriscape, start with these ideas:
- Choose plants that need little water. Ask your local nursery or garden store to point you in the direction of drought-resistant plants, or just check for a few tell-tale signs yourself: the plants that have thick, fleshy stems and leaves, have leaves that are hairy or silvery-grey, or leaves that are small or prickly, are often the plants that can survive on less water.
- Pick plants native to your region. One of the reasons my mother's neighbors get in trouble for their green lawns is that most grass is not suited to the arid conditions of the Southwest. They'd do better to choose ground cover or plants that are indigenous to the area, and that thrive on low humidity, lots of sun, and little rainfall. No matter where you live, there are plants that are suited for just your climate — work with them!
- Water wisely. If you do have to water your plants in-between rain showers, do so efficiently and smartly. Water in the early evenings or early in the morning so that the water won't evaporate in the heat and the sun. Focus your watering directly on the base of the plants so that the roots are able to access the water immediately, and try not to spray water in the unplanted areas in-between — this will also discourage weed growth. Collect water in rain barrels, or use containers in sinks and showers to catch excess running water, and use that to water your plants. You can also water more efficiently by grouping plants together that require similar amounts of water.
- Reduce the size of your lawn. It might be hard to imagine a yard without a big green expanse of lawn, but rethinking your property to reduce the amount of water-guzzling grass can be an exercise in creativity — and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much you'll save on your water bill by not having to irrigate your lawn. Increase the size of your patio, create walkways, plant more shrubs or flowerbeds, or cover more open areas with mulch or rock gardens. If you can't imagine your yard without grass, you can try a drought-resistant variety, or you can cover your ground with water-conserving succulents.
- Use plenty of mulch. Mulch not only provides an attractive ground cover, but it also thwarts weeds and keeps soil moist.
Do you have any tricks to limit the amount of water you use in your yard? Share your xeriscape tips below.