Plant Selection, Placement Key To Water-Wise Landscaping


Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series on water-wise gardening techniques for the Rim country.

by Barb Bourscheidt
special to the roundup
Grouping plants with similar water requirements together will simplify the design of your low-water-use irrigation system. This technique also reinforces the concept of planting in zones placing those plants with the highest water needs nearest the house, those with moderate water needs in the transition zone, and low-water-use plants in the arid zone, farthest from the house.

If you are a vegetable gardener, or enjoy fruit trees, consider placing these plantings where they can benefit from roof run-off. Other high-water-use plants will thrive on the north and east sides of your house, where shade from the hot summer sun will keep the roots cool and moist.

Most flowering plants require about six hours of sunshine daily for the best blooms, but columbine, coral-bells, Parry's primrose, and some coneflowers are a few exceptions.

Ferns are very shade tolerant, as are members of the honeysuckle family and Virginia creeper, a vine that displays brilliant red foliage in the fall. Among the many shrubs that will tolerate partial shade are most members of the cotoneaster family, the barberry family, many junipers, the sumacs, wild roses and Oregon grape. These plants offer a wide range of sizes, textures, colors, berries, and choices between evergreen and deciduous.

Trees that are well suited to planting on the north and east are maples and oaks that naturally thrive in climate zones a little wetter than our own.

The transition zone, or mid-range area of your yard, is a good place to landscape with low- to moderate-water use plants. These areas usually receive sunlight most of the day, so flower families such as yarrow, butterfly bush, the asters, chocolate flower, poppies, many penstemons, and coreopsis do very well here. A limited turf area fits into this zone also.

Try one of the native fescues, or, for a more evenly textured lawn, a low-water, low-maintenance turf of buffalo grass might fit the bill. Our sun-loving shrubs include the large family of artemisias, of which sagebrush is an important member. Others shrubs such as the chokecherries, spirea and barberries offer interesting textures, structure and berries or fruits for birds and small animals.

This is also the place to plant those specimen trees such as blue spruce, Douglas fir and Arizona ash.

Plants that will thrive in the arid zone are the most drought-tolerant once established. This is the place to put all your favorite natives such as manzanita, native juniper, Arizona cypress, pinion pine, and a large number of oak species. Mountain mahogany, New Mexico privet, fairy duster, the full range of yucca plants, cliff rose and apache plume are all at home here.

If you have established native trees such as pines, oaks and junipers, choose plants to landscape around their bases that will not require more water than the tree can tolerate. Plant a minimum of four to six feet away from the tree trunk, using varieties that will survive on natural precipitation after the first season. Native fescue and ornamental fountain grass, bear grass, rhus trilobata, ceanothus, and many members of the sedum family, iris and daffodils are low-water-use companions.

A comprehensive list of plants that are well suited to this climate zone is available at the Payson Water Department. The Water-wise Gardening and Landscape Festival from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. April 8 at Green Valley Park will provide opportunities for everyone to learn more about low-water-use gardening in the Rim country.

The speaker for the festival will be Jim Knopf, the author of "The Xeriscape Flower Gardener."

Presentations will be held at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. in the Rim Country Museum near the park.

Other festival attractions include:

  • Soil testing: Bring a cup of your soil in a quart jar to the soils booth.

• Professional landscape design: A walk-through design studio.

• Gardening with nature: Learn how to attract wildlife to your garden.

• Choose the right plants: Nursery professionals answer your questions.

• Children's activities: Paint a flowerpot, plant a flower, clowns, face painting and lots more.

  • Food and refreshment booths.

The festival, sponsored by The High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona with the support of many community businesses, agencies and organizations, is free and open to the public.

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