Gardening is the No. 1 hobby in the United States, a tradition we have inherited from our ancestors in many parts of the world. Water shortages and water scarcity also are being faced on every continent and in growing numbers of communities globally. But in our society, we expect well-maintained homes to be well landscaped which helps to protect property values and shows the pride the homeowner takes in caring for his home.
We have come to expect towns and cities to maintain aesthetically pleasing landscapes along roadsides and medians. Plants help to clean the air, cut down on noise, offer shade and break up the monotony in parking lots. As a community that depends on tourism for a large part of its economic health, a pleasing public landscape is a necessity.
As citizens who treasure our rights, many believe we have the freedom to garden around our homes if we should choose to do so. The fact is that domestic landscape requires the use of water. In Denver and Albuquerque studies showed that before aggressive water management programs began, 60 to 70 percent of all water supplied for business and residential use was applied to outdoor landscape.
Is it possible to preserve the aesthetic beauty of our neighborhoods and roadsides and still protect and extend our water supply for the future?
I believe that with a slight shift in thinking about landscape styles; learning about plants that are well-adapted to this climate zone with the ability to grow with little or no water once established; and by everyone making a few hard choices about where and how to use water outdoors, we can work together to solve this difficult dilemma.
The first step in creating a water-wise landscape is to evaluate everything that is being grown at present. Are trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers and flowers native to this area, or a similar climate zone elsewhere?
“Exotics” are plants that have been imported from a dissimilar growing region and require substantial modifications to the soil and natural water supply. For instance, an azalea could be grown here, but would require frost protection, acidic amendment to the soil, and much more water than nature can provide. If plants struggle to grow and bloom, require continual feeding and watering, they may not be well suited to this area. Even native and other low-water use plants will grow better and require less maintenance if planted in a similar micro-environment to where they occur naturally.
Gambel oaks, for example, do well planted in a cluster, in a slight depression where they receive periodic runoff to give the roots a deep soaking. Many plants grow better in shade while others have requirements for full sun.
Next, create planting “islands.” Grouping plants with similar growing requirements together in mounds with boulders, not only is more efficient in terms of laying drip systems, but also appears more congruent with our natural topography.
Take a walk on one of the many trails in the area, and look at Mother Nature’s landscaping style. Many plants grow together in a “community,” and when we mimic these communities with plants of similar size and texture, our domestic landscapes begin to fit into our natural environment. Island planting allows clustering plants together for impact and raising the soil level, which is helpful where rocks or clay beds may be just a few inches below ground.
Surrounding a planting island with a walkway placing it between the house and drive, for example provides access for maintenance and enjoyment. Leaving the rest of the property in a natural state, with our native granite as a ground cover, will require much less water, and much less maintenance.
Winter rains and snow-pack may promote the growth of weeds. Many “weeds” are actually native grasses and wildflowers, which can be pleasing to the eye, and provide seeds for birds and small animals.
To find out about plants that are appropriate for our climate zone, stop by the Payson Water Department and ask for a plant list, or log on to www.xeri scapeaz.org. To see some creative water-wise landscape designs, check out the city of Albuquerque website.
For first-hand experience at creating a lush and lovely water-wise “naturescape,” bring a shovel, rake and work gloves to the Payson Learning Center (formerly EAC) at 10 a.m. Wednesday Dec. 18. The High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona has received a grant to establish a demonstration garden in the main courtyard of the college campus.
Barb Bourscheidt is a longtime resident of Payson, a member of the Rim Area Gardeners and a participant in the Gila County Master Gardener program. She serves on the board of directors of the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona.