WITH THE SUMMER season in full swing, do you sometimes feel like you might be working a bit too hard to maintain that lush lawn and green garden? If so, it’s time to start thinking about the art of xeriscaping.
Xeriscaping (from the Greek word xeros for “dry”), refers to water-efficient landscaping where, with careful planning, soil conditioning, efficient watering practices and drought-resistant plants, you can create a beautiful lawn and garden that require less water, fertilizers and chemicals for maintenance.
The first step to your own xeriscape is to assess the conditions of your property, identifying various microclimates and placing plants in areas where they are best suited based on their water needs.
By talking to people at your local nursery, you can find the droughttolerant plants and native species that work best in your area, and they can offer ideas on how to best manage your new growth during its first year.
“Your gardening efforts will be a positive force if you think first of what must once have grown there,” says Karen Christensen, author of The Armchair Environmentalist. “Native trees and wildflowers are easier to maintain and require less water and fertilizer than many standard garden varieties.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite water-loving plants altogether, but simply that, by grouping plants based on their water requirements — with thirsty plants together near a downspout or in an area that does not drain quickly, and plants with lower water requirements, such as ornamental grasses, on the outer edges of your property — you can increase the efficiency of your water distribution while still maintaining your favourite foliage.
You can also reduce water consumption by collecting rainwater for watering your gardens and watering either early in the morning or late at night, to minimize evaporation. Also, by adding mulch or compost to your soil, you can improve the overall water capacity and drainage, increasing water retention and decreasing runoff. Both mulch and compost will reduce water evaporation, and mulches will protect the soil from the sun, erosion and weed growth.
To further reduce your water usage, you might want to consider giving up the traditional Kentucky bluegrass altogether in favour of alternative ground covers such as native grasses, clover or violets.
According to the City of Toronto, water consumption rises by about 60 per cent during the summer season as people work to maintain their lawns and gardens. But by switching to hardy, low-lying natives, you will be able to maintain a lush, green landscape with little to no effort.
“The great thing about native grasses is that they are warm season growers, as opposed to species like Kentucky bluegrass,” says Amanda Billard, co-owner of Grow Wild! Native Plant Nursery, Landscaping and Ecological Services (www.grow-wild.com).
“With warm season growing grasses, you get that green lushness in the middle of summer when coldgrowing varieties can look discoloured.”
To see well-established xeriscaping in action, you can visit the Queen’s Park Xeriscape Garden, which was created by the Ministry of Natural Resources and features more than 140 drought-resistant plants that are suited to our specific regional climate.
And, even if you’re not quite ready to make the leap to a fully xeriscaped property, you can still introduce elements of its design to improve water efficiency on your own property. You’ll not only benefit from a relaxing summer of low maintenance lawn care but also reduce your water bills at the same time.