Dry-Climate Plants Are Best Picks

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Editor's note: This is the fifth in a seven-part series on water-wise gardening techniques for the Rim country. Each installment, written by local author and garden expert Barbara Bourscheidt, will appear in the Friday issue of the Roundup.

by Barb Bourscheidt special to the roundup

The key to successful gardening is knowing what to plant where. Newcomers to the desert Southwest often complain that they can't get anything to grow. That's because the climate here requires gardeners to plant and water on a different schedule than in other parts of the country.

Learning as much as possible about plants, their water demands and soil needs is good garden insurance.

Taking a cue from Mother Nature and using the same sorts of shrubs, trees, and flowers that she plants here for us is a good place to start. We have a wide variety of highly textural blooming yuccas and agaves, which bloom in the spring, are evergreen, and add interest to high country landscapes. We can choose from a long list of shrubs, some that bloom in early spring, such as the members of the ceanothus family, and others that produce berries that last all winter, such as the silk tassels and holly buckthorn.

Our tree choices include seven kinds of oak, the giant ponderosa pine, the thick, small-needled pinyon, and, of course, junipers and Arizona cypress. Most native trees are extremely slow growing, but those who are willing to make the investment can buy mature specimens.

New lot owners and builders can save large trees and remove only the trees necessary to provide building space. This is called building inside the envelope removing just enough native flora to gain access to the site.

Flowers and ground covers that provide three-season color and erosion control are too numerous to list here.

The list includes poppies, sage and artemesia, Mexican hat, gaillardia, flax, wild delphinium, penstemon, rabbit brush, snake weed, and hundreds more. A comprehensive list of appropriate plants for Rim country gardens that are available commercially is available at the Town of Payson Water Department. It is free for the asking.

Now is the best time to plant potted perennials, and one- to five-gallon shrubs will easily make the transition from pot to ground while the nights are still cool. Flower seeds are best sown in the fall, so they have a chance to sprout in the cool moist winter soil. Trees and some native shrubs, such as Manzanita, transplant best in late fall or early winter, so their roots can become established with winter snow and rain.

Plants that are adapted to the local climate and the native soils require no supplemental water once established, provide shelter and forage for native songbirds and small animals, are pest- and disease-resistant, and require no fertilizers to keep them growing. The best part is the minimum amount of maintenance they require, which gives homeowers the opportunity to enjoy their landscapes rather than being slaves to them.

More information about native and other "no- to low-water-use" plants can be obtained from: Plants of the Southwest (800) 788-7333, www.plantsofthesouthwest.com; High Country Gardens, (800) 925-9387; The Arboretum at Flagstaff, (520) 556-1280, www.thearb.org; and Plant Fair Nursery, 474-6556.

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