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desert-landscape

“How much water do my plants need?”

I am often asked this question by desert dwellers and my answer is always, “That depends.”

desert-landscape

There are several variables that determine how much water plants need, along with the frequency of watering.

Variables include:

  • Type of soil (clay, sand, combination)
  • What kind of plant (native plants, higher water use flowering shrubs and ground covers, succulents, etc.)
  • Recommended depth of water
  • Desert region (low-desert, mid-altitude, high desert)
  • Efficiency of irrigation system
  • Water pressure (can vary between neighborhoods)
As you can see, there is no universal watering guideline in regards to how long to water or how often.

Let’s look into the variables a little more closely to help you determine what yours are:

 

SoilClay soils hold onto water longer than sandy soil. They take longer for water to permeate to the recommended depth. The result? Clay soils need irrigation less often than sandy ones but need to be watered for a longer length of time. Phoenix area soil tends to have more clay in them while those in the Palm Springs area are sandy.

Plants – Native or desert-adapted plants need less frequent irrigation versus those that come from tropical climates. Cacti and other succulents do well with infrequent irrigation.

Water Depth – Trees need to be watered deeply while ground covers and succulents do fine at a more shallow depth – shrubs fall in between the two.

Desert Region – Where you live in the desert matters when it comes to water and your plants. The differences include rainfall amounts, when the rain falls, high and low temps, and more. Residents of low-desert cities like Palm Springs and Phoenix need to add water to their plants more often than those who live in higher elevation regions such as Tucson.

Irrigation System – The older your irrigation system, the less efficient it is. This is due to mineral build-up within the system, which affects the amount of water that comes out. Also, old drip irrigation systems tend to accumulate leaks. The average lifespan for a drip irrigation system is 10-15 years. 

Despite these differences, what is a shared characteristic is that the vast majority of desert residents water too often and not deeply enough. This is usually due to lack of knowledge and thinking the ‘more is better,’ especially in the desert.
Landscapers are generally not a reliable source when it comes to scheduling irrigation – most recommend irrigating far too often.
 
So what is a desert dweller to do?
Thankfully, there is very useful information available for homeowners to help them figure out when and how much water their landscape needs.
 
Major metropolitan areas throughout the Southwest have excellent watering guidelines available for residents. The guidelines include the regional variables we have discussed so far.
Here are helpful links based on major desert cities (click the link for the city closest to you):
Watering guidelines are just that – guidelines. Circumstances may mean that you need to water more or less often, but these guides are a useful baseline to work from.
*One final note – before you implement a new irrigation schedule, it’s important to gradually wean your plants to the new one over several weeks. The reason for this is that it allows plants to become accustomed to the new schedule.

Yes, it does take a little work to figure out how much and often to water your plants, but these guides are incredibly helpful and will guide you along the way.

Have you ever wondered how sustainable your landscape is?


Earlier this week, we began our series of posts on sustainable landscaping and talked about what a sustainable landscape is.  You can find the first post here.

Most of us like the idea of having an attractive landscape without wasting resources such as fertilizer, excessive pruning and water, time and gasoline unnecessarily.  But, oftentimes we do things in our gardens that create the need for additional resources.

Today, we will look at one of the major problems that I see which often goes wrong and prevents people from having sustainable landscapes.

MISTAKE #1:

Most people fail to take into consideration how large their new plants will grow.

For example:


This young ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’) measures roughly 1 foot high and wide.

But, just a few years after planting, it does grow quite a bit…


This ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’), which is similar in size to ‘Green Cloud’ Texas sage reaches sizes up to 8 feet tall and wide.

It’s hard to believe that such a small shrub can grow so much in just a few years time.


This trailing rosemary was initially quite small when planted next to this boulder.  However, the homeowner did not allow for the fact that the rosemary would grow and eventually ‘swallow’ the boulder.


This small ficus tree looks rather innocent, doesn’t it?  But, it is harboring a secret…


It will grow absolutely huge!
This ficus tree absolutely dwarfs this house.  

The mistake of not allowing for the mature size of plants when planting, leads to…

MISTAKE #2:

Over-planting.


At first glance, there appears to be nothing wrong with this landscape area.  There are some larger dwarf oleanders in the background and nine young Texas sage shrubs.

But, do you think that the Texas sage shrubs will fit in this area once they start to grow toward their mature size of 6 – 8 feet?

I don’t think so.

Over-planting occurs when people don’t allow for the mature size of the plants.  Of course, new plants look rather small and somewhat straggly once first planted, which often leads to over-planting to make the new area look more attractive.

That is what happened to this area below…


Would you believe that the shrubs planted above are actually the same as those shown below?


It’s true.  The only difference is that in this space, the mature size of the shrubs was taken into account, so there was no over-planting taking place.

Think about how much less money and maintenance this area uses compared to the previous area?  There are fewer plants, less maintenance and it looks much nicer!

Mistakes #1 and 2 lead us to…

MISTAKE #3:

Excessive pruning.


So, what do you think people do if their plants are planted to closely together – they prune them…a lot!

Drive-thru’s are places that you can usually find over-planted landscapes.  The one above is filled with 2/3’s more plant material then is needed.

The over-pruned shrubs in the forefront are actually Valentine (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) shrubs, which look much more attractive when not over-pruned.


There are 3 Valentine shrubs in the photo above that are allowed to grow to their natural shape after their annual pruning in May.


These silver sage shrubs at our local Costco store have also been over-pruned due to the fact that they were planted too closely together.

Over-pruning often leads to artistic expressions…

‘Abstract Art’


‘Mushrooms’


‘Cupcakes’

Words fail me attempting to describe the pruning 
of these sage shrubs.

Here are some interesting facts about over-pruning that you may be surprised to hear.

Over-pruning…

– makes plants grow faster (as they attempt to re-grow the leaves lost)

-creates more maintenance (faster growing plants tend to be pruned more often)

– uses more water (in their attempt to re-grow lost leaves pruned away).

– creates green waste (branches/leaves head to the landfill)

– leads to unhealthy plants (from the stresses of too much pruning).

– wastes time used for un-needed pruning.

Have you ever seen the inside of shrubs that have been excessively pruned for years?

I warn you, it isn’t pretty…




Not too pretty, is it?

Over time, flowering shrubs that have been excessively sheared, can develop large dead areas and eventually decline.  This leads to old shrubs being removed and a new ones put in.

MISTAKE #4

Growing plants that aren’t adapted to your climate.


Plants that are not well-adapted to your local climate require excessive resources such as extra water, fertilizer and other maintenance.  

Queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffianum) are just one example of a plant that often struggles in our southwestern, desert climate.  No matter what we do, they will never look as nice as the queen palms growing in more tropical climates.
The lesson to be learned from this is that not planning for the mature plant size, over-planting, over-pruning and wrong plant selection uses up a lot of resources.

1. Excessive amounts of water are used due to over-planting, over-pruning and for plants not well-adapted to our arid climate.

2. Money is wasted on buying more plants then are needed.

3. The costs of maintenance used for excessive planting and pruning include another resource – gasoline.

4. Declining health of plants that have not been pruned properly or those ill-suited for our dry, hot climate.

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So how does your landscape compare with examples, above?

If you see some similarities – don’t worry.  There are things that you can do to decrease the amount of resources that go into maintaining your landscape.  

My goal is to help you toward not only a more sustainable landscape, but one that is also beautiful and attractive.

In my next post, we will start to talk about 

“Small Steps Toward a Sustainable Landscape”.


Do you know what ‘sustainable landscaping’ is? 


Would you be able to identify a sustainable landscape if you saw one?


Last weekend, I spoke to a large group about “New Ideas for Sustainable Landscaping”.  The community that I spoke to are in the process of becoming an Audubon International Sustainable Community, which would make them the first one to do so, west of the Mississippi.


There a lot of people who turned out to learn more about how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  I was thrilled to talk to them about what sustainable landscaping is and small steps that they can take toward that goal.

Maybe you are curious about sustainable landscaping and want to implement some strategies toward having a more sustainable landscape.  

This is my first post talking about this important subject in the hopes that I can inspire you to take steps toward a more sustainable landscape.

WHAT IS A SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPE?

First, let’s look at an example of what I am NOT talking about in regards to a sustainable landscape…


Do you remember when green gravel was in style in the 70’s?


Or how about this one with the fancy gravel design and two lonely cacti?

Technically speaking, both of these landscapes are sustainable, but they are not the model of sustainability we are looking for.


Here is a great example of a sustainable landscape.


So is this one.

Both of these landscapes are planted with arid-adapted plants that thrive in our hot, dry climate with minimal care. What you may also notice is that they are not ugly – they are all quite beautiful.


The next time you find yourself near the natural landscape, wherever you live – notice how nature does a great job creating and maintaining a beautiful landscape.  
Nature does this without any help – no pruning, supplemental water, chemical fertilizers (nature does fine with natural sources of fertilizer) and pesticides. 


So, what exactly is a ‘sustainable landscape’?

“A SUSTAINABLE LANDCAPE IS ONE THAT IS IN BALANCE WITH THE CLIMATE, WHICH REQUIRES MINIMAL ‘INPUTS’.”
What are ‘inputs’?  They are resources that we use to create and maintain our landscapes such as fertilizer, supplemental water, pruning, gasoline and pesticides.

Would you like to decrease the amount of ‘inputs’ in your landscape, without having to sacrifice beauty?

Well you certainly can and it isn’t hard to do.  In fact, you can save yourself time and money in the process!

Next time, we will discuss what we are doing wrong in our current landscapes, which is important to know so that we can avoid these mistakes on our quest toward more sustainable landscapes.
*Disclosure: I was given this book, free of charge, for my honest review. 

Anyone who likes to garden knows that birds are naturally attracted to many types of plants – especially native plants.

Costa’s Hummingbird visiting the velvety flowers of Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha)
I particularly enjoy watching the hummingbirds visiting my garden.  
 
The blooms of Ocotillo are irresistible to hummingbirds.
As I visit other gardens, I enjoy seeing the feathered visitors and note what it is about that garden space they find attractive.
As a garden writer, I am often given the opportunity to review books by the folks at Timber Press -especially those that marry gardening with birding.
 
So, I was thrilled to see their latest book on my doorstep…
 
 
This is a fabulous book filled with all you need to know to attract birds to your garden.
 
For example, what if you could create a bird-friendly garden that attracted birds that you don’t always commonly see in your neighborhood?
 
 
One winter, this small blue bird found its way onto my garden wall.  I had never seen any type of blue bird visit my garden, so I was thrilled.
House finches gather for a quick bite of bird seed.

For many people, our efforts to attract birds consists of hanging out a bird feeder and filling it with seed.

 
While you are providing food for birds by doing this, they require more then bird seed.  They need water, shelter and native plants to feed upon.


Gardening For the Birds by George Adams, will help you to create a sanctuary in your own garden filled with beautiful plants that will attract feathered visitors.

Inside this book are lists of plants, separated by region, that will help to attract birds to your garden.  In addition, many of these plants have over-lapping bloom cycles, which are there to provide a year-round source of food for birds.
 
I am not a black & white type of girl – I don’t like books about gardening (or birding) that only have black & white photos.  That is why I love the colorful photos of plants and birds in Gardening for Birds.
 
So are you ready to move beyond your bird feeder?  Get this book and learn how to add shelter, water, nesting sites AND native plants to your garden.  You will soon be rewarded with a wide variety of birds visiting your garden.
 
Roadrunner checking out the front patio.
Now, I am not going to let go of my copy of this book.  BUT, I AM HOSTING A GIVEAWAY WHERE YOU CAN WIN YOUR OWN COPY!
 
If you only own one book about birds and gardening – this is the one!  It would also make a fabulous gift for the bird-lover in your life (Christmas is just around the corner).
 
All you need to do is to add a comment, below, to this post.  For an extra entry – ‘like’ me on Facebook or ‘follow’ me on Twitter.
 I will pick a winner 1 week from today.  
 *I was provided a copy of this book for free, for my honest review.


Enjoying the beautiful birds of summer!

I like the word ‘deluge’.  I think that it accurately describes what happened at our house a couple of weeks ago.

So, why am I just now writing about it?

Well, I must admit that I am keeping my head above water, so to speak 😉  I am still recovering my strength after suffering from the flu (I have been needing a nap everyday).

I have also been busy with consults now that the weather is cooling again and people actually want to go out in their gardens.

Okay, so back to our ‘deluge’.

We get periods of torrential rain during our summer monsoon season.  But, what happened on this Friday morning was quite impressive.

The Lantana in the front entry were absolutely drenched.
Homes don’t have gutters where I live, so the rain drips from the eaves.
Our new flagstone pathway channeled the water into the street. 
Our newly re-landscaped front garden enjoyed the rainfall.  I was happy to see how the rain also pooled around our new Desert Museum Palo Verde tree, watering it deeply.
I wish I could say that our back garden weathered the ‘deluge’ as well as the front garden. 
But, we definitely need to work on channeling the water away from the patio….
Thankfully, my 20-year old daughter, Rachele, and my teenage nephew were on hand to scoop the excess water with buckets out onto the grass.
(The water got too close to the back doors for comfort).
We will be making a shallow channel along the front of the patio and toward the side gardens, where the excess water will drain out to the front. 
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I have had the pleasure of meeting a few readers of my blog when I came to do a landscape consult for them.
I enjoy meeting you in person and seeing your gardens for myself.
Have a great week everyone!