Last year’s drought has pushed through to this year and expected to continue on to next year. Living in Southern California we are working hard to do our part to reduce our water usage, to conserve our water. Did you know that you can landscape your yards to be drought resistant? Even small steps can make a difference, so when planting this spring and summer, consider using native species already adapted to the environment you live in.
What plants use the most water in a yard?
You typically want to avoid planting species that require constant hydration such as plants that are natural to a rainforest where humidity is never a problem. However it is not just the tropical plants that require extra attention. The following plants are known for needing more water than others.
Tropical and exotic plants: Species such as hibiscus and banana, commonly used in landscaping, come from tropical regions that get a lot of rain. These plants tend to have fairly high water requirements.
You can assess a plants water needs by simply observing its foliage. Plants with large glossy dark leaves tend to absorb more heat and require a lot of water. A larger leaf surface area means greater water loss. If hydrating is a concern, stick with hairy, smaller, and lighter-colored or silvery leaves that retain water and diffuse light, such as lambs ear, rosemary, or lavender, Ellis advises.
Annuals: Generally sighted all around town during summer, short-lived annual plants, such as impatiens, often need a lot of water. Many annuals have a shorter growing season with intense blooms, and a corresponding shallow root system. Plants that have time to grow extensive and deep roots will be able to tap water deep within the soil and live longer in drought-prone regions.
It may seem counterintuitive, says Ellis, since large plants take more water to establish, but once they have found their footing, these hardy species don’t require as much watering, and can provide shade–and relief from the heat–for much of your garden.
A traditional lawn: Most grass and turf species are on the list of thirsty plants to avoid. If you are still attached to the American dream, and are facing water shortages, consider drought-tolerant varieties such as buffalograss, or consider replacing at least some of your lawn with a garden of native species that attract wildlife and pollinators.
What plants use the least water?
Every plant needs water. But drought-resistant varieties need only dainty sips once they’re established, making them perfect for low-rainfall areas and low-energy gardeners. Native plants have the best chance of surviving dry summers or whatever nature throws at them. Include these five stunners in your landscaping and retire your watering can.
- California lilac (Ceanothus):This beautiful shrub flowers in late winter/early spring, emits a lovely fragrance, and shows flowers that run from white to purple. The “Concha” variety is prized for its deep blue blossoms. California lilacs grow best on dry, sloping land or in front of any structure that protects them from wind. They also prefer well-drained soil, therefore they don’t do well in clay.
2. Deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): Found in many desert gardens, deer grass is a spiky and dependable ornamental. While it lives for full sun, it also will grow in a little shade. Water every three days until established. After the first year, it only needs to be watered once every three weeks, that is a mere 17 times a year.
- Salvia, heatwave series:These dependable perennials were developed in Australia to withstand extreme weather. As a bonus, they bloom spring through fall, to the delight of hummingbirds and butterflies. Colors include white, pink, and salmon.
4. Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria): This low-growing perennial is known for its silver-gray foliage, looks good as a ground cover, and thrives in containers stuffed with annuals. It hates standing around with wet roots, so over watering is the only thing you have to worry about.
5. Tickweed (Coreopsis):These yellow perennials add a burst of sunshine to any garden or border. More than 100 species are long-blooming and low-maintenance. Also, they are easy to divide, creating many more plants season after season.
How to save/utilize water for your yard?
Now that you have the yard you want, or plan on doing small refurbishment keep these tips in mind to help you keep your water usage down to help with the states drought crisis.
Waterless Plants: If you are planting a new lawn, or over seeding an existing lawn, use drought-resistant grasses such as the new “Eco-Lawn”. Many beautiful shrubs and plants thrive with far less watering than other species. Replace herbaceous perennial borders with native plants because the native plants will use less water and be more resistant to local plant diseases. Consider applying the principles of xeriscape for a low-maintenance, drought resistant yard. When planting on a slope use plants that will retain water and help reduce runoff. It also helps if you group plants according to their watering needs.
Better Than Soil: Mulch will slow evaporation of moisture while discouraging weed growth. Adding 2 – 4 inches of organic material such as compost or bark mulch will increase the ability of the soil to retain moisture. Press the mulch down around the dripline of each plant to form a slight depression which will prevent or minimize water runoff.
Watering The Lawn: A good way to see if your lawn needs watering is to step on the grass. If it springs back up when you move, it doesn’t need water. If it stays flat, the lawn is ready for watering. Letting the grass grow to 3″ will also promote water retention in the soil. Most lawns only need about 1″ of water each week. During dry spells, you can stop watering altogether and the lawn will go brown and dormant. Once cooler weather arrives, the morning dew and rainfall will bring the lawn back to its usual vigor. This may result in a brown summer lawn, but it saves a lot of water.
Soak The Lawn: When watering the lawn, do it long enough for the moisture to soak down to the roots where it will do the most good. A light sprinkling can evaporate quickly and tends to encourage shallow root systems. Put an empty tuna can on your lawn – when it’s full, you’ve watered about the right amount. Early morning is generally better than dusk since it helps prevent the growth of fungus. Early watering, and late watering, also reduce water loss to evaporation. Watering early in the day is also the best defense against slugs and other garden pests. Try not to water when it’s windy – wind can blow sprinklers off target and speed evaporation.
Going Organic: Adding organic material to your soil will help increase its absorption and water retention. Areas which are already planted can be ‘top dressed’ with compost or organic matter.
Style of Watering: You can greatly reduce the amount of water used for shrubs, beds and lawns by installing a drip system. Avoid over-watering plants and shrubs, as this can actually diminish plant health and cause yellowing of the leaves. When hand watering, use a variable spray nozzle for targeted watering.