It is simply a matter of good plant choices and soil preparation. The first step, says Dr. Calvin Finch, a horticulturist and water conservation expert in San Antonio, Texas, is adding organic matter to the soil.
“The more that is added,” he says, “the better the plants will fare and bloom.” He suggests adding two to four inches of organic material, or the most that can be afforded. Compost is best, but Finch advocates all types of organic materials, including leaves and brush. However, if brush or leaves are used, a nitrogen fertilizer must also be added to the soil. Simply spread the organic material out on the soil, and till it in.
For established landscapes, add organic material through aeration, which is performed by cutting small plugs in the ground and filling with organic material, or through top dressing, which is simply spreading organic material over the top of the landscape. Finch says compost makes an excellent top dressing.
Next, gardeners should consider the type of landscape they want, and how far they are willing to go to conserve water and grow healthy, water-saving plants.
Xeriscaping is a technique that gardeners in dry climates can use to cut back water usage and still have a lush landscape. Put simply, xeriscaping is a method of gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for additional irrigation. As climate patterns shift, this type of gardening is becoming popular in more areas. Xeriscaping also reduces the need for pesticides and once established, xeriscapes are low-maintenance gardens.
One of the biggest water users are lawns. If gardeners are willing to live without a lawn, they have a variety of water-saving options.
If gardeners decide to go lawn-less, groundcovers are good options. Ivies and trailing plants, such as Asiatic jasmine, are hardy and require little care, once root systems are established. Gardeners also can choose to create mini-gardens, using water-saving plants such as Plumbagos, Yellow Bells, roses, and Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and lavender, and build paths between the areas.
Getting Rid of Grass
If a grass-less landscape is the way a gardener wishes to go, an easy way to get rid of grass is to cover it with newspaper, which will eventually degrade, and then cover the newspaper with soil and mulch and organic material. Then, install water-saving plants.
If this idea is too radical, then gardeners can consider replacing part of the grass with groundcover, and gradually replacing thirstier plants with low-water-need plants.
Here are a few suggestions from the San Antonio Botanical Gardens staff.
- Purple Coneflower (Echinaceae purpurea)
- Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
- Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
- Water Clover Fern (Marsilea macropoda), a nearly evergreen groundcover capable of covering large areas.
- Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani)
- Rock Rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberose)
- Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii)
- Lantana (Lantana sp.)
- Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens)
- Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens)
- Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
- Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia)
- Black Cherry (Prunus serotina subsp. eximia)
- Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica)
- Many species of oak trees