Water-Wise Gardening In The Rim Country

GOOD GARDENING

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Water-wise gardeners can learn how to maintain a beautiful landscape and save water too. The secret is to choose the right plants, install a water saving and efficient method of irrigation, and find ways to make the water stretch as far as possible. Municipal water departments and water companies throughout much of the west estimate that roughly 70 percent of the water sold to homes and businesses is used out of doors.

In the Rim country, the ground water supply is under pressure from increasing population and decreasing annual precipitation. Water conservation may become a crucial issue to the quality of life, and may make the difference between a thriving, growing community or a declining one.

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Choosing the right plants, such as lavender and salvia greggii, installing a drip irrigation system, and using plenty of mulch insures a successful low water use landscape.

Every year the quantity of use increases fourfold between March and July. As the growing season begins and visitors flock to the high country, everyone uses more water. Motels use water for showers, room cleaning and Jacuzzis. Restaurants serve more water, and use more for clean up. Gardeners and groundskeepers start pouring water on trees, grass, flowerbeds, golf courses and vegetable gardens.

Gardening is the No. 1 national pastime, exceeding reading, watching sports and travel. The garden industry, which includes landscapers, designers, garden products and nursery centers is a multi-billion dollar industry. At the heart of this huge industry, is earth's most precious commodity: water.

Gardeners in arid regions are learning new techniques and rediscovering ancient secrets for harvesting water, using it more efficiently, reusing it, and eliminating waste.

"Xeriscape" is a term which applies to the science of water conservation in the home or business landscape setting. The concept began in Colorado in the 1980s when Denver was suffering from drought and a growing population. There are seven basic principles which help gardeners adapt to a water conserving form of garden management. These principles can be applied to any form of gardening, and any size of landscaped area. Commercial properties as well as private homes will benefit from Xeriscape techniques because those with the largest water bills will realize the greatest savings.

1. Planning and Design. Whether starting from scratch or working with an existing landscape, create zones for water use. Grouping plants with similar water needs will make watering more efficient. Use plants that require the most water in the coolest or shadiest areas, as on the north or east side of a building. For ideas, drive around the community and see how others have landscaped with rocks, shrubs and trees. Visit the demonstration garden at Gila Community College.

2. Establish practical lawn areas. 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 to keep them mowed. Consider an herbaceous flowering or aromatic low growing ground cover instead. If a small amount of turf is required, try Buffalo Grass (buchloe dactyloides) which is reputed to be un-thirsty, pest resistant, and requires minimal mowing.

3. Design efficient water systems utilizing soaker hoses or drip technology and create ways to harvest rain and snow runoff. Free informational brochures available wherever drip system components are sold. Utilize roof runoff by capturing rainwater in barrels on downspouts. Slant drives, and patios to direct runoff onto flower or vegetable beds. Pick up a booklet on water harvesting at the garden kiosk at GCC. The Payson water department has information on gray water systems.

4. Condition the soil: Improve the soil by adding organic material like compost to help the soil hold the water you do use. Loosen soil around the planting area, and check for good drainage. Log onto www.xeriscapeaz.org for information on home composting.

5. Use mulch. Mulches keep soil cool and moist, help prevent weeds and help capture rain water. In addition, organic mulches encourage earthworms, and add nutrients to the soil.

6. Choose plants that have minimal water requirements. In this climate zone (USDA 5-7, depending on location) there are dozens of trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flower species that will thrive and bloom year after year with little or no water once established. A plant list is available on www.xeriscapeaz.org, and High Country Gardens in Santa Fe 800 925-9387 will send a catalog of colorful perennials free of charge. Plant Fair Nursery has a good selection of low water-use natives, which can be planted now.

7. Appropriate maintenance. Remove weeds, use fertilizers sparingly, and quickly eradicate pests before they become a problem. Learn the appropriate season to prune shrubs or cut back perennials. Most native plants do not need pruning, and are more attractive if left to grow into their natural shape. Excessive pruning stresses a plant, forces it to require more water, and is usually unattractive.

The High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona meets on the first Monday of each month in room 101 at GCCC. Anyone interested in helping to educate the community in the principles of water-wise gardening is invited to participate.

Call (928) 474-0373 for additional information.

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