aka: Water Wise Landscaping

Like everything else, the cost of water is on the rise. Cost can be measured not only by the size check you write to your utility company each month, but also in terms of availability and quality.

Here in the northwest, we are blessed with an abundance of water. There are numerous rivers, lakes, small creeks and groundwater wells. Water is everywhere, or so it seems. Yet almost daily, the news media publishes stories about droughts due to low snow pack, oil spilling into waterways from over-turned transport vehicles, contamination of groundwater due to chemical leaks, erosion of stream-banks due to destruction of ground cover by forest fires, etc. Add to this an ever-increasing demand for water by a rising population, mounting governmental regulations to protect public health, construction of treatment facilities to address these concerns, and the true cost begins to take shape.

While water is still available to meet the daily health requirements of the population, we can not afford to waste this precious resource. At the same time, landscapes are an important part of our homes and businesses. They add pleasure to the eye and provide a relaxing atmosphere in which to pursue activities, especially in the summer when we spend more time outdoors.

The northwest enjoys a modified Mediterranean climate. It receives most of its precipitation during the winter months and is relatively dry during the summer. This means that we need to water more in the summer if we want a lush, green landscape. Or do we? One answer to having an attractive landscape and still reduce the cost of watering is conservation in the form of xeriscape.

The term xeriscape comes from the Greek word "xeros", meaning dry. Xeriscape then, is the use of plants in the landscape that require little to no water. We're not necessarily talking about cactus here. Though a desert landscape is surely a xeriscape.

All plants need some water, but think about it. Who waters the plants you see in the wild or along the highway? They get the water they need from natural sources such as rain, dew, and fog. Xeriscape merely carries this principle into our back yards. While you may not choose to use xeriscape in your entire landscape, why not try it in specific areas that would otherwise require a lot of water?

Most landscapes have areas that tend to be dry. These are usually microsites with southern or western exposures, located at the top of slopes that are excessively drained, or exposed to drying winds. These areas are ideal for a xeriscape. But choose your plants well and place them according to all their needs. Soil type and preparation can vary with the plants you select. Be sure to look at individual requirements. Some may need full sun and good drainage (sandy or rocky soils, slopes) while others thrive where shade and humus soils help reduce moisture loss.

Exposure and drought-resistant plants are very important elements in planning a xeriscape. Most trees and shrubs with needles and those that have thick waxy leaves are generally drought resistant. These leaves help retain moisture, so the plants actually require less water. Drought resistant plants are just what is needed for an exposed area.

Native trees and shrubs do well for this purpose and the northwest has some great ones. Trees such as Madrone, Douglas Fir, Blue Elderberry, Tanbark Oak, Incense Cedar and Myrtle (California Bay) provide shade for lower plants, stabilization of soils, and in groups, can act as a windbreak. Native shrubs include Oregon Grape, Mountain Ironwood, Oceanspray, and Red Flowering Current. Bonus, most are evergreen too.

Some imports are also good candidates for a xeriscape. Holly, silk tree, camellia, photinea, junipers, and laurel are trees and shrubs that can be adapted to a xeriscape. Groundcovers with these same characteristics include Creeping St. Johnswhort, ivy, and many varieties of cotoneaster.

Shasta Daisies, Vinca, and some varieties of Day Lilies are examples of flowering perennials that require little to no extra water. Then too, have you tried planting wild flowers? These generally do best in sunny, undisturbed areas and give a great splash of color.

If unsure of how to design a xeriscape or what to plant in it, help is available from most garden centers or contact Jack Foster at Springfield Utility Board Conservation (744-3765). You can have a beautiful landscape without spending your money on high water bills. It will help conserve our precious water resource at the same time.

Nancy L. Moreno

Wellhead Protection Inspector - SUB

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