| Xeriscape: Saving Water Naturally
Mueller, Horticulturist/Owner, Evergreen Landscape, Mammoth Lakes, CA License 860408
an uneducated newcomer to a thirsty community first hears the word “xeriscape” it seems to trigger a negative
feeling. Once these rookies learn the facts about what xeriscape really means they find it to be an attractive, yet inexpensive
way of landscaping. “Xeriscape” comes from the Greek word xeros, which means dry. A xeriscape is not a barren
landscape sprinkled with rocks and cacti, it’s a lush, colorful landscape filled with water-efficient plants that save
water and money. Most people are surprised when they discover that it doesn’t mean no turf grass. Xeriscape subscribes
to grass in areas where it makes sense. Where does the grass serve a function on the property? If the only time the grass
is stepped on is when it’s mowed, it should be replaced with xeriscape. Remember, your thirsty, green, high-maintenance
carpet is being kept alive with drinking water. When you walk around the property do you notice the damage caused by sprinklers
that water the grass located too close to a wall? How much money is spent on wall repairs and paint per year? When deciding
which areas will remain in grass, keep in mind that you’re not growing crops at this property; you don’t have
to use the amount of water that will obtain the highest yield. Of course no one wants brown grass, but the idea isn’t
to maximize growth. That just leads to mowing more often and paying a higher water bill.
In the thirsty Las Vegas desert, the Southern Nevada Water Authority performed studies that
have shown that for every square foot of grass that is replaced with xeriscape, there is a savings of approximately 55 gallons
of water per year, or a 30% reduction in water use. The amount of water saved also depends on the inefficiency of the spray
irrigation system that was replaced with the new drip irrigation system. Based on the 2003 water consumption in the SNWA metered
areas, residents used 70 percent of their drinking water outdoors - 90 percent in the summer. Twenty
to thirty percent of the water consumed was lost to leaks or water waste.1
How much does it cost
to replace one square foot of grass with xeriscape if a landscape contractor is hired to do the job? It depends on the extent
of the landscape project. If curbing and other hardscapes are to be installed, the price will be higher. The price is also
higher if large plants are chosen such as trees planted in a 24-inch box. While these trees cost more because of their size,
they also help give the newly installed landscape a mature look. If the desire is to have a lush xeriscape, but the budget
is a concern, it is better to buy several small plants (1 gallon size pots), and have fun watching them grow. If the existing
turf grass landscape already has many large trees and all you need to add, after the grass is removed, is smaller groundcovers
and shrubs to make a beautiful xeriscape, the cost would be lower.
Developing a good design is essential to creating a successful xeriscape. A xeriscape design
can be formal or informal, and depending on the plant palette, can symbolize a variety of themes, ranging from a formal courtyard
to a native desert wash. Apply the following seven principles of xeriscape to design a landscape that fits the conditions
of the property.
1) Sound Planning and Design: draw a plan to scale on paper or computer, indicating
all elements ie., plants, walkways, fences, exposure, slopes, views, soil type, color, irrigation, and any other features.
Turf Areas: active areas should be planted with turf because it is a great surface for kids and pets to play on.
Inactive areas should be planted with groundcovers, shrubs, or trees to reduce water usage. For functional or active turf
areas, use water-efficient grass such as bermuda or zoysia. A properly designed sprinkler system that waters evenly with no
overspray or runoff is essential to water conservation.
3) Water-Efficient Plants: there are hundreds of drought tolerant plants to choose from, with a wide
variety of colors, textures, and watering requirements. Consider the mature size of the plants of interest whether it’s
a tree, shrub, groundcover or perennial, and plan accordingly.
4) Efficient Irrigation: use spray heads for watering turf and a drip system for watering trees, shrubs,
and groundcovers. Never put sprinklers on the same valve as drip emitters.
5) Organic Soil Improvements: incorporating organic material into desert soils that are extremely
low in nutrients improves the soils capacity to absorb water and obtain nutrients. Too much organic material is not healthy
for desert natives so mix 1/3 organic material with 2/3 existing or natural soil.
6) Surfaces Mulches: in addition to providing the landscape with a tidy, finished look, mulches cool
the soil, decrease evaporation, prevent erosion, and reduce weeds. Typical examples are various sizes and colors of rocks
and bark, or other plant materials such as pine needles or straw.
7) Appropriate Maintenance: adjust or check the irrigation controller monthly to reflect weather changes.
Establish a schedule for weed control, fertilization, pruning, and irrigation leak checks.
As the population in the Western United States grows and rainfall remains low, we all need to be smart about watering.
When you drive around town and see water running down the street or being sprayed on sidewalks, remember, that is our drinking
water. What can you do about it? By upgrading to xeriscape, you help conserve our region’s most precious resource: water.
Spring Landscaping Tips
Gail Mueller, Horticulturist/Owner, Evergreen Landscape, CA Lic 860408
SPRING…it’s the season of sweet smelling blossoms from the flowering
plum tree; the sharp, rich aroma of junipers; the vibrant colors of flowering shrubs; and the fresh green growth of all plants
waking up from their winter nap. The warmth of the sun is as inspiring to our plants as it is to us. We can take advantage
of this transitional period between cold winter nights and hot summer days by preparing our plants for the warmth to come.
An inspection of the drip or sprinkler system might be in order if this hasn’t been done for awhile. To
do this, turn the irrigation controller to the manual mode and for each station watch for leaks, plugged emitters, missing
emitters or spray nozzles, faulty valves, poor drainage, or run-off. If any of these things are happening, you might want
to fix the problems before the plants tell you to fix them. If the plants don’t inform you of a problem, the water bill
might. Clean drip filters and flush drip lines. Adjust the irrigation schedule when the temperature heats up. Watering early
in the morning when it’s cooler and less windy, guarantees less evaporation. Remember to incorporate the cycle and soak
method of scheduling for lawn sprinklers. Parched desert ground is extremely hard, making it difficult for water to penetrate
deeply. To alleviate this problem, set the controller to water 2 or 3 times a day, 4 minutes each cycle, and 1 hour in between
cycles. The first cycle will moisten the soil, allowing the second cycle of watering to travel deeper into the soil, creating
a healthier lawn. Watering for too long without cycling creates runoff to areas that aren’t landscaped, and doesn’t
support the targeted plants.
If you haven’t already fertilized, now
is the time. The timing of fertilizer depends on the type of plants in the landscape. Generally speaking, it takes energy
for plants to send out flowers and new green growth, so giving them fertilizer is the boost that they need to keep growing.
Organic fertilizers are highly recommended in dry climates because the native “soils” do not contain much organic
matter. In a perfect world, the soil would contain 5% organic matter. Adding some organic matter, such as compost, to these
soils is recommended for two reasons: 1.) the amended soil acts as a conditioner providing a more suitable texture for root
growth, and 2.) it holds nutrients in the soil longer, therefore, giving plants a slow long-term feeding. If you use organic
fertilizers such as cottonseed meal, blood meal, bone meal, fish emulsion or kelp you won’t have to apply them as often
because they are naturally slow-release fertilizers (it takes time to break them down into a form that is easily absorbed
by the roots). If an all purpose organic fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is desired, choose a brand
that also contains humus. Several all purpose fertilizers contain sulfur. Sulfur is a highly recommended acid that will neutralize
the pH of alkaline soil. It can be purchased alone in the form of pellets or granules from local nurseries. In dry climates,
sulfur can be applied twice per year, in the early spring and early fall. Chemical fertilizers for grass are typically applied
every 6 weeks. Chemical fertilizers will have a faster response by greening up the lawn quicker than organic fertilizers;
however, they have to be applied more often and don’t give the benefit of humus (organic matter). Are
the new leaves on the trees and shrubs yellow? A possible solution would be to apply a chelated form of iron such as KeRexâor Cibaâ Sequestrene 138. They are more suitable to plants than other
products that contain iron. The chelated form is typically more expensive but it works faster. Sprinkle it on the soil around
the plant and water it in, or dissolve it in water and spray it on the leaves. Remember, always follow the directions on the
label when using any fertilizer.
Hard, compacted soil inhibits root growth and can cause puddling or runoff. Ideally, the
soil should have 25% air, 25% water, 45% mineral solids, and 5% organic matter. Aerating the lawn is a way of introducing
air back into the soil. The soil needs air because all roots take in oxygen. By poking holes in the ground twice a year we
ensure that the roots can “breathe.” The best time of year to aerate is in April or May and again in September
or October. It is easier to aerate the day after watering because the soil will be softer. Manually operated aerators are
fine for small lawns and can be purchased at the local nurseries. Power aerators are available at equipment rental companies
for large lawns. If the lawn is top dressed after aeration with a soil amendment/fine organic compost, this improves the soil,
increases the water holding capacity, and reduces runoff.
Rake the Needles and Leaves
Conifers leave a dense mat of needles under the snow in winter. If they weren’t raked and disposed
of in autumn then now is the time to do it. A dense mat of needles, leaves, branches, and pinecones doesn’t allow water
and air to penetrate the soil and reach the roots of trees and other plants, including turf grass. There are benefits of leaving
some needles on the ground. They eventually break down and provide organic matter to the existing soil. They acidify the soil,
act as a weed barrier, and as a surface mulch to slow evaporation of water. Don’t allow the layer to get so thick that
it acts as a water barrier.
Sharpen the Mower Blade Another
way to keep the lawn looking exquisite is to sharpen the lawn mower blade every 4 weeks. Contractors that are using their
mowers every day, all day, may want to sharpen the blade at minimum once a week. Sharpening the blade this often gives such
a clean cut; you will never have frayed brown tips of grass again. Check with a local lawn mower shop for
safety procedures if you plan on removing the blade yourself. This is a very dangerous procedure if you don’t
know what you are doing because the blade can start turning without starting the mower. Having a professional lawn mower shop
remove and sharpen the blade is a safer option.
Insect Control The long-term human health and environmental effects of chemical pesticides were not understood
until years after their introduction. For safety reasons, pesticidal soaps have made a comeback. Soaps are selective in the
insects they affect. Soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mites, scale, white flies, caterpillars, fruit flies, mealy bugs,
and thrips will be killed by soaps. These are insects that can do major damage to plants. Insects that are not affected by
soaps due to their hard outer coverings include beetles, bees, wasps, flies, grasshoppers and roaches. Saferä Insecticidal Soap is a popular insecticide
that kills the insects that harm plants. Another way of controlling harmful insects is to attract helpful, predatory insects.
For example, there is a miniwasp (they are roughly the size of a gnat) that kills aphids by laying eggs inside the aphid.
Once the egg develops into larva, it eats the aphid from the inside, cuts a hole in the aphid’s dead body, and then
emerges. The aphid’s dead body, usually located on the underside of leaves, is hard, shiny, darker in color, and contains
a small hole. How do you attract the miniwasps into the yard so that they can do their job? Simply plant alyssum, a fragrant
bedding plant that is used in borders and rock gardens. Their typical flower colors are white, lavender, and violet. Not only
do they self-seed but they thrive in poor, rocky soil. Miniwasps love them! Other beneficial insects include lady beetles,
more often called ladybugs, and green lacewings, both of which prey on aphids, scales, mealy bugs, white flies, and mites.
To obtain more detailed information, refer to the following website: www.getipm.com.