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For those who live in the western half of the United States, water has always been a precious resource. In recent years, this has become especially true during a long-term drought has made its impact felt.

As a result, many of us find ourselves looking for ways to save water. The first place you should start is your landscape as that is the largest percentage of your water consumption.

Today, I’d like to show you examples of three different low water landscape options: 

Option #1

Drought Tolerant – This landscape is characterized by lush green, semi-tropical flowering plants. These include bougainvillea, lantana, oleanders, and yellow bells. All these do well in hot, arid climates in zones 9 and above. While most aren’t native to the Southwest, they are considered moderately drought tolerant and suitable for those who want more a lush look for the desert garden.  
For best results, deep water approximately once a week in summer and every 2 weeks in winter.
 

Option #2

Moderately Drought Tolerant – Native, flowering plants make up this type of landscape.  Plants like chuparosa, damianita, penstemon, Texas sage, and turpentine bush are examples of this.
Because these plants are native to the Southwestern region, they need infrequent watering to look their best – a good guideline is to water deeply approximately every 10 days in summer and every 3 weeks in winter.
 
 

Option #3

Extremely Drought Tolerant – For a landscape to exist on very little water, a collection of cacti and succulents are the way to go. Columnar cacti such as Mexican fence post, organ pipe, saguaro, and totem pole add height to the garden. Lower growing succulents like agave, candelilla, and desert milkweed can be used for mid-level interest.  
Golden barrel, hedgehog cacti and mammillaria fill in smaller spaces and look great next to boulders. Once established, they do best with watering approximately every 3 weeks spring through fall.
online-class-desert-gardening-101

Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up for my online course, DESERT GARDENING 101.

 
It’s important to note that shrubs should be watered deeply to a depth of 2 ft., which promotes deep root growth, and the soil stays moister longer. Succulents do well at 12″ depth. 
**Watering guidelines can vary from region to region within the desert Southwest, so it’s wise to consult with your local city’s landscape watering guidelines.
 
Whichever option you select, creating an attractive water-saving landscape is within your reach that will thrive in our drought-stricken region.

Where do your plants get their water from?


If you are like most people who live in the desert Southwest, your answer may be drip irrigation, a rain barrel and/or rainfall.

But, what if you didn’t have drip irrigation or don’t want to install one?  Is it possible to have an attractive, established landscape that can survive on only regular rainfall in the desert?

The answer is yes!


Last week, I was asked to help a client with her landscape.  

Now unlike most of my clients, she had no irrigation.  Any new plants had to be able to survive on the average 9 inches of rain that fall each year.  


Her existing landscape receives no supplemental irrigation and is filled with succulent plants such as agave, desert spoon, golden barrel cacti, mesquite, Mexican fence post cacti, ocotillo, prickly pear and red yucca.


Native desert shrubs like brittlebush, bursage and creosote filled out the rest of the landscape.

My client was happy with how her front yard looked, but wanted some help with the backyard.  


The backyard was filled with cholla and saguaro.

My goal was to add a few of the client’s favorite desert plants as well as include a few more for a welcome splash of green and colorful flowers.

I added some Argentine giant (Echinopsis candicans) cacti, which she loved.

In addition, I also included chuparosa (Justicia californica) in areas that received filtered shade where their blooms will add welcome color.  Pink fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla) was suggested for bare areas, intermixed with brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) for late winter to early spring color.

I also recommended that the volunteers from several agave growing in front including cuttings from her prickly pear be utilized in the backyard as well.

All of these plants can survive on regular rainfall once established.

Note the two underlined words above, which are important.  If rainfall amounts are lower than average, plants may need supplemental irrigation.
In addition, many of the new plants will need irrigation until they become established and grow a sufficient root system – this can take a year or even two.

It should also be stated at this point, that fall is the best time to plant so that the new plants have time to establish a good root system before the heat arrives the following year.

So, how often do you need to water new plants until they become established?

If planted in fall, water native, desert shrubs deeply (1 1/2 ft.) every week for the first month.  Then every 2 weeks for the rest of the first year. 

For the cacti and succulents, water once a month for the first year, skipping the winter months. 

Thereafter, both types of plants, including other desert natives, should be able to survive on natural rainfall.  If rainfall is absent, water once a month.

So, you may be wondering what is the best way to water without a drip irrigation system.  Here is an easy way to water your plants by creating a DIY drip irrigation system.


Yes, that is a milk jug.  You can use them to create portable drip irrigation that you can move from plant to plant.  The water is released slowly allowing it to permeate deep into the soil.

You can learn how to make your own here.






Are you experiencing drought where you live?


You may be surprised to find that it is not only the West that is dealing with below average rainfall and its effects.


If you take a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor’s most recent drought map, you’ll see a lot of dark reds scattered about, particularly in California.


But, if you take a closer look, you can also see ares in the Northwest, Southeast and Northeast showing signs of drought as well.

Last month, I did a series of radio interviews on drought tolerant gardening.  Of course, you’d expect that one of the radio stations would be in California and it was.  But, other interviews were for radio stations in other areas that may not immediately come to mind when it comes to drought or abnormally dry conditions – Alabama, Oregon and Texas.

As a child growing up in California, I remember other times when drought was affecting this beautiful state.

On my most recent trip to California, I was struck by the brown hills with scattered trees that were showing the effects of drought.  

In a neighborhood setting, you could see some houses where the residents let their lawn die due either to strict water restrictions or voluntarily letting their lush green lawn turn brown.  Some landscape companies are now offering lawn painting services where they will come out and paint your brown lawn, green.

I decided to drive through my old neighborhood to see the house where I spent my teenage years.  I do this every few years whenever I am in town.  As I drove down the street, I saw three different examples of how the residents were dealing with the drought conditions.

I’d like to show you each of these examples and let you in on a secret – I grew up in one of these houses.

See if you can guess which one was my house…

Example 1:

When I was growing up in this neighborhood, everyone had a lawn.

However, the owners of this home ripped out their lawn in favor of a contemporary, drought tolerant landscape filled with succulents, ornamental grasses and a few arid adapted shrubs.  

I like the step stones leading up to the entry, don’t you?

The entire landscape had a layer of mulch to help conserve water and in this climate could survive on very little supplemental water.

Example 2:


This house with the ‘thirsty landscape’ is located just a few houses down from the drought tolerant landscape.  As you can see, the owners have kept their high water use landscape without any regard for the severe drought conditions present.

Large areas of lawn (including the parking strip), along with high-water use shrubs seemingly mock those who are trying their best to save water.

I sometimes wish that I had a parking strip.  I’d plant some beautiful, drought tolerant plants.  Maybe I should send the homeowners the book, “Hellstrip Gardening”?

Example 3:


This landscape is certainly not drought tolerant, but there are reduced lawn areas and even though the planting beds are not filled with drought tolerant plants – they do take less water than if they were taken up by a lawn.

I must admit solely on looks alone, that I prefer this landscape over the other two as long as rainfall amounts are normal.  But, in times of drought, I’d remove all of the lawn, add mulch and some drought tolerant ground covers like bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) or trailing lantana.

So, have you been able to guess which of these homes that I grew up in?


The home with the ‘thirsty landscape’!

The landscape has not changed from what it looked like throughout the 80’s.  

This was a great house to grow up in with its 6 bedrooms and large backyard filled with blackberry bushes, citrus trees, a large pine tree and two palm trees.

If you look carefully, you can see three maple trees in the middle of the backyard, just peeking above the roofline of the house.  My brother, sisters and I planted those trees in 1978.

How about you?

Are you experiencing drought where you live?  What do you do to save water in the landscape?