Xeriscape Gardening: Growing Plants With Less Water

Save water and still have a beautiful garden!

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My zone four xeriscape garden has a succession of blooms from spring through fall including pink soapwort, alliiums, dianthus, artemisias, Russian sage and native grasses. All of these thrive in low water conditions.

With drought conditions and watering restrictions commonplace in communities around the country, the issue of watering lawns and gardens is on the minds of many—including me. One thing I’ve done to reduce the amount of watering I do is to create an entire garden devoted to xeriscape plants—plants that are happy in low-water conditions.

Less water doesn’t mean an ugly garden

I’m not talking cactus and rocks. I garden in St. Paul, Minnesota, so these aren’t exactly desert conditions. My low-water garden blooms nonstop from March until the first snowfall. and no matter how hot or dry the summer is, I don’t water this garden at all. Everything growing there does well with only the available rainfall we have in any given season. In the past few years. we’ve had drought conditions, and my xeric (drought-tolerant) garden has thrived through it all.

Poor soil is a plus

My xeric garden was built on the debris leftover from our four-year house addition project. I was left with gravel, chunks of old concrete and infertile soil. Rather than cart in truckloads of expensive loam, I decided to turn my yard’s poor soil to my advantage.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that careful plant choice, lean soil and excellent drainage are key to a healthy and gorgeous drought-tolerant garden. And benign neglect. At first I was resistant to the idea of leaving the plants to fend for themselves in rocky soil and dry weather. It’s hard to break a lifetime habit of adding soil amendments and heavy mulch. But those things kill xeriscape plants because their roots rot if they sit in too much water (especially during the winter).

Check out xeric gardening online

One great resource for information and plants is High Country Gardens (visit highcountrygardens.com). Their catalog and Web site are a treasure trove of information about xeric gardening, and they sell wonderful plants that do well with less water for every region of the country. If you think low-water gardens are just cactus-filled bores, you’re in for a wonderful surprise. Try transforming an area of your yard into a low-water garden. You’ll use the hose less and enjoy the blooms just as much.

— Elisa Bernick, Associate Editor

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