The upcoming season will be a hot and blistery summer. Plants will have to manage the heat and try to thrive in bone dry soil after having a particularly dry winter. Keeping plants watered through the dry season is a necessary challenge. Since resources- including time, money, and water- are precious, we want to give some tips to maintaining your landscape effectively through water-wise gardening practices.
Good Watering Practices
Water-wise gardening begins with a consistent and water-efficient method of watering. Take some time to review your watering system, including irrigation, timers, and hoses. Are you making the best use of available water? Have you ever walked around your neighborhood in the summer and seen streams of good water running off from a broken sprinkler? The Sacramento Bee reports that landscape water is responsible for 65% of household water usage. The good news is you can use water responsibly and it's easy.
Four tips for reducing water usage:
- Plants should be watered early in the morning for minimal evaporation. Set your automatic timer for the hours of 5 - 8 am.
- More specialized irrigation systems include controllers with sensors that directly respond to local environmental data. By using smart technology, plants are only watered as needed. We suggest the Solar Sync system by Hunter.
- Drip irrigation is the most efficient water-conserving method of irrigation. With drip irrigation, water is released to plants slowly and steadily in droplets. Drip irrigation uses water sparingly and can be used with excellent results for plants and shrubs with low-to-moderate water requirements.
- Lastly, simple upkeep of your irrigation system improves the long term functioning of equipment, and reduces unnecessary water waste. Make sure the controller is updated for the season. Check for leaks in hoses and irrigation valves.
Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place
Plant selection is the second aspect of water-wise gardening. If you have full sun, poor soil and want to minimize the use water then it's important to choose sturdy and unthirsty plants. There are many plants with low-to-moderate water needs that will look stupendous in the garden.
Listed below are a few examples of ideas for low-water-use plants for full sun. Many of which attract beneficial insects and butterflies! As a rule of thumb, when choosing plants, look for California or Mediterranean natives. They tend to do well in our climate and have low water needs. As an additional resource, the UC Davis Arboretum has a list of plants called the Arboretum All Stars which have been thoroughly tested, and proved their ability to thrive with limited water.
- Perennials: Salvias, Lantana, Lavender, Coreopsis, Echinacea
- Cacti: Agaves, Yucca
- Grasses: New Zealand Flax, Red Fountain Grass, Melinas
- Groundcovers: Lantana, Manzanita
- Trees & Shrubs: Crape Myrtle, Butterfly Bush
Lavenders and salvias (sage) have bright, colorful blooms for full sun and the salvias are available in a wide variety of colors. They can grow to two-to-four feet tall and wide, depending on the variety.
Agaves and Yuccas are desert plants so they'll feel right at home in a full sun, low water environment.
You can choose a grass-type plant such as New Zealand Flax for their foliage, to create some variation in plant appearance. These are mid-sized plants with dramatic appeal. Also, red fountain grass is a stellar accent grass that adds both color and texture with one plant.
Drought tolerant groundcovers are a great choice for vast areas or hillsides. Lemon Thyme is a beautiful low growing goundcover. For a taller (2-3 ft.) option, try trailing Lantana which comes in white, purple and yellow. Manzanita is native choice for a hill side.
Trees & Shrubs:
Some shrubs that work well in low-water gardens include Butterfly Bush (Buddleja), Rockrose (Cistus) and Japanese Barberry. Trees, including Strawberry Tree Arbutus ‘Marina’, Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) (pictured), Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) and others, can tolerate minimal water and continue to contribute shade and beauty to the landscape.
Landscape with the Aim to Conserve
Your garden will benefit from some rehearsal of good landscaping principles that emphasize conservation. Aim to choose plants that are compatible with your area’s conditions. Knowing plant size, season of flowering, and seasonal maintenance can be important considerations.
Sun and water requirements are a big factor for water-wise gardening. Try to group plants by their water needs. All plants, including low water plants, will need moderate water to become established.
You can always get creative with water-wise gardening. Xeriscaping means creating a low-water landscape through the use of low-water plant choices and also landscaping methods. For example, landscaping with sand or rock in open garden areas is an attractive way to reduce water usage by decreasing plant area that requires watering.
Drought tolerant plants are well-suited to growing en masse. Attractive landscapes will exhibit multiples of plants for a massed effect. Repeated colors also add strength to the overall garden character.
Maintaining a thriving garden over summer requires flexibility and often some experimentation, so have fun with it.