Water-Wise Gardening In The Rim Country

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There is a change occurring in the thinking of gardeners all over the country regarding the type and style of plants chosen for the home and business garden. Americans are choosing to make their gardens more congruent with the environment in which they live by focusing on the use of plants that thrive on natural precipitation, and landscape styles, which blend into the surrounding countryside.

In the Rim country residents are discovering an added bonus to this new style of gardening in the manner of water conservation.

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John Jacobsen, of the High Country Xeriscape Council, installing drip lines.

As reports of the possibility of a continuing drought trickle into our consciousness, it becomes apparent that westerners cannot continue to pour 70 percent of our potable water supply onto landscapes. Living in the arid, high desert, with its uncertain water supply, challenges home gardeners and professional landscapers alike to conserve water used out of doors around homes and businesses.

As gardeners begin to consider the concept of gardening appropriately for the climate zone in which they live, a new terminology for this style emerges. "Xeriscape" is a word we are beginning to see regularly, the root-word "xeros," being Greek, means "dry." A xerophilous plant is one that grows in dry regions, and most of the native plants from the piƱon-juniper belt in which we live, fit that description.

Xeriscape is water conservation through creative landscaping. Gardening styles, which utilize xeric techniques, offer rewards for all gardeners, hobbyists and professionals alike.

The low water-use garden will support a broad range of plants and can be a haven for wildlife, attracting songbirds and small animals such as lizards, chipmunks and squirrels. Foliage can be lush, and flowers plentiful. Xeric maintenance is minimal, giving us more time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The only thing missing in a xeric-based landscape is the use of inordinate or inappropriate amounts of water

Creating a low water-use landscape is simple and uses traditional, good gardening techniques. The basic concept of Xeriscape is "nature- scape," gardening with Mother Nature, instead of against her.

In the zone

1. Create zones for water use. Use those plants that require the most water in the coolest or shadiest areas, as on the north or east side of your home. Don't mix plants with different watering needs.

2. Establish lawn areas only where there is no alternative. According to the experts, lawns are resource wasters. They require large quantities of water, fertilizer, weed killers and pesticides, not to mention the energy and noise pollution involved in keeping them mowed.

How about considering a lovely herbaceous flowering or aromatic low-growing ground cover instead? If you must have turf, try Buffalo Grass (buchloe dactyloides) which is un-thirsty, pest resistant, and requires minimal mowing.

3. Before you begin to plant, improve the soil by adding organic material like compost to help the soil hold the water you do use. Added bonus: when using hardy native plants, just loosen the soil, many don't like soil that is too rich.

4. Choose from the wide variety of native and low water-use plants now available.

5. Design efficient water systems utilizing drip technology and create ways to capture rain and snow runoff.

6. Use mulch. Mulches are soil coverings that minimize evaporation, keep soil cool and moist, reduce weed growth, slow erosion and help capture rainwater. Start a compost pile. The end result will feed your soil while you save on your trash bill.

7. Properly maintain your garden. Remove weeds, use fertilizers thriftily, and quickly eradicate pests before they become a problem

The first concept of Xeriscape is to create zones for water use.

Begin with the water zone nearest your house. This zone can serve as a mini-oasis, utilizing the highest water-use plants in the landscape. The shady east and north sides of a building are good places for foundation plantings. The areas shaded by adjacent structures, such as carports and patio roofs can be included in this zone, utilizing runoff from rooflines and downspouts. Usually drives, walkways, planter beds and patios interrupt the planting areas in this zone, making it the smallest as far as square footage is concerned. A small turf area for children or pets would be located in this zone.

The second zone serves as a transition zone, blending the lush area with the dry area of your landscape. The plants for this zone will range from moderate to low water-use, and should require little supplemental watering (once a week or less) once established.

The third zone is the arid zone. This is a great place to include the native vegetation that occurs naturally in this area. The plants chosen for this area should require no supplemental water once established. This area would be located the farthest from the house and away from high traffic areas.

Autumn is a good time to begin to assess the present landscape, design changes to be made and work on those changes while the weather is cool and comfortable. Take note of plants that have suffered during the summer, and determine whether or not to keep them. Visit local nurseries, arboretums, order plant catalogs or look at online websites to find new environmentally friendly plants to replace those that are not appropriate for this area. Work on making structural changes or "hard-scape," which might include laying a walkway, setting large rocks in place, building a dry-stone wall, or reducing your turf area.

Control perennial weeds, but take into account that plants previously considered "weeds," might be native wildflowers that could be incorporated into a new, natural gardening plan.

Permeable surfaces allow the absorption of water and snowmelt to ooze back into the soil. Assess present hard surface drives and walks to see which way they drain, and utilize the runoff for a possible flower bed.

Design a water system, incorporating water harvesting rainwater, and a gray water re-use system. Pamphlets on gray water are available at the Town of Payson Water Department.

The most efficient way to conserve water out of doors is to install a drip system which delivers water directly to plant roots, thereby cutting down on evaporation and run-off. "RAINDRIP" has an excellent booklet on how to install a drip irrigation system and it's free and available at nurseries. Multi-emitter fittings can replace old-style lawn sprinkler heads. Drip components are not expensive, and the cost can be recovered in a few months' savings on your water bill.

Gardeners anxious to get started planting new plants might identify an area away from the house that will become an arid zone. Select plants that are very low water-use, but give them what they need to become established.

Fall is an excellent time to plant because cooler temperatures put less stress on plants. Winter precipitation will allow root growth, so the plant will be able to burst forth with new growth in the spring.

Sow wildflower and native grass seed after the first frost in meadows and swails.

The new High Country Xeriscape Demonstration Garden in the main courtyard at the GCC campus is open to the public and offers a firsthand look at low water-use plants, water-harvesting techniques and permeable surfaces. The information kiosk has educational materials to take home. Plant lists are available from www.xeriscape.org.

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