FOR BRANT NEWS
There is a term being used more commonly now than ever in gardening circles: xeriscaping.
It is a reference to gardening where water is used at a minimum.
Note that I did not say that you can garden in complete dryness. Anyone who has tried to grow plants under the soffit or “overhang” of a roof knows how difficult that can be.
Summer gardeners would be well advised to consider the advantage of xeriscaping. Whether you are using water from a shallow well, have to deal with watering bans or you simply have a concern about using an excess of water to keep your plants happy, the fact is we are into the heat of summer.
The long-term weather forecast is for a long, hot season with lots of thunderstorms but less than normal rainfall.
To help get you started, I have a list of plants to offer. Each of these beauties requires a minimum of water to look good. In my opinion, they all deserve an invite to the ball, especially while in bloom.
These are reliably winter hardy plants that will come back each spring for years to come.
Yarrow (Achillea) – A native plant that blooms for up to six weeks and can be invasive. (Zone 3)
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum) – Easy to grow, a unique plant that your kids will enjoy. (Zone 2)
Purple cone flower (Echinacea) – This native to the Canadian prairies is a great choice for attracting butterflies while in bloom and songbirds while in seed. (Zone 4)
Lamb’s ears (Stachys) – Easy to grow, a “tactile” plant that your kids will enjoy. (Zone 3)
Spurge (Euphorbia) – A reliable perennial in a sunny position. (Zone 2)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – A culinary herb with ornamental properties. (Zone 4)
Daylily (Hemerocallis) – A wide family of plants that thrive in dry and sunny locations. Look for Stella D’Oro for reliable performance. (Zone 2)
Japanese spurge (Pachysandra) – One of the best ground covers in dry shade up to Zone 4.
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) – You cannot kill it, the flowers are fragrant and it looks great while in leaf. (Zone 1)
Hosta-plantain lily (Hosta) – More than 8,000 varieties to choose from. What is not to like? (Zone 2)
Rudbeckia – A popular plant for use around gas stations. If they use it, it must be low maintenance. (Zone 5)
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) – Nothing easier to grow in a sunny location. Spreads aggressively and is easy to divide in spring. (Zone 4)
Veronica-speedwell (Veronica) – Clumping plant that attracts hummingbirds in profusion. (Zone 3)
These are too late to grow from seed but not too late to plant young transplants.
Portulaca – Seeds itself and is so easy to grow.
Short zinnias – “Short” because the tall ones tend to need more water.
Cornflower – Dry them and enjoy them indoors.
Strawflower – Ditto.
Dusty miller – A “biennial” that produces a pretty good looking plant in the second year too.
Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate) – A great June flowering lilac that blooms for three weeks. (Zone 2)
Common lilac – It produces suckers and can be invasive, but set away from your house it can be stopped by mowing around the plant regularly. (Zone 3)
Deutzia – Look for “dwarf” deutzia for great performance. (Zone 5)
Yellow twig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) – Ornamental twigs for use in winter displays and a great looking shrub. (Zone 2)
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) – Can be invasive, but great for holding a slope to prevent erosion. (Zone 4)
There are other strategies you can employ in your garden to minimize the use of water and the amount of time that you stand at the end of your hose applying it.
Having free rain water at your disposal may be a no-brainer for some gardeners, but it amazes me how many people have not discovered the wonders of fresh rain water. Not only is rain water free, it is warm. When your garden is in its greatest need of watering (mid-summer) the warm water that you deliver from a rain barrel is a welcome change from that cold stuff that you dump on heat-seeking annuals and vegetables from the faucet. Do you enjoy taking a cold shower? I didn’t think so. Neither do most plants.
At the risk of sounding like I am tooting my own horn, there is a lot to be said for the water-conserving ability of a “bleeding hose.” I mention my own horn because I have two soaker hoses in the Mark’s Choice lineup at Home Hardware (full disclosure).
Having said that, I advise using water as efficiently as possible where you can. Soaker hoses provide just such an opportunity.
The recycled rubber soaker hose ‘bleeds’ water to the root zone of your plants, where the plants need it most. I bury soaker hoses under mulch or a shallow layer of soil and turn the water on long enough to let the water move down to the root zone of plants without losing much at all to evaporation.
The miracle of mulch
Early summer is the best time of year to rake a layer of finely ground up pine or cedar bark over the soil and around your plants. The young plants that you have planted this spring are very susceptible to damage from the drying effects of hot weather. You will reduce weeding by up to 90 per cent and watering by up to 70 per cent.
While in Brazil a few years ago with the not-for-profit Share Agricultural Foundation (www.shareagfoundation.org), I was introduced to the idea of collecting water in a gravity fed pool, which served the purpose of holding rain water for use in the “dry season.” The water was drawn from the open cistern when it was needed most. Given the precious resource that water is in the Bahai region of Brazil, the simple concept of a cistern is a life saver.
The same idea can be employed here using a “holding” tank where rain water that falls from a roof or down a hill is held in a tank for use later on. When water is needed, it is pumped from the underground tank by a submersible pump.
All of this suggests that you do not have to sit by and watch your garden cook this summer. Plant the right plants in the first place and make sure that they are taken care of through the heat of summer. For the most part, all you have to do is swing in a hammock.
Visit Mark Cullen’s website at www.markcullen.com.