“How much water does a plant need, and how do I know when enough is enough?”
You are not alone. Many nurseries report that the number-one reason plants are returned is due to death by drowning. We see a plant wilted and immediately think they need to add more water. In many cases, that is the worst thing to do – and it overlooks the true culprits.
These culprits come in all shapes and sizes, and could be any number of things. To properly assess the situation, and to understand how much water a plant needs, you need to first understand the fundamentals of the landscape in general.
To gain a general understanding of the landscape and the relationship between water and plants, let’s start with the term Xeriscape TM, trademarked by Denver Water in the 1980s. Since then, the term has gained worldwide recognition – a simple Google search brings up more than 256,000 results!
On Answers.com, Xeriscape is defined as “a trademark used for a landscaping method that employs drought-resistant plants in an effort to conserve resources, especially water.” Is this right? Perhaps. It all depends how it’s interpreted. Xeriscape is a term as widely used as it is widely misunderstood.
Xeriscape is not a plant. It is a process, a method, a route or course of action.
Xeriscape consists of seven steps that must all operate in tandem to build a healthy and sustainable landscape.
The Seven Steps of Xeriscape are:
1. Planning and Design
A well-thought out design considering budget, appearance, function, maintenance, and water requirements.
2. Soil Analysis and Improvements
Test soils to identify what improvements are needed (texture, nutrients, salts and pH). Amend soil with 3-5 cubic yards of organic matter per 1,000 sq. ft. (based on soil testing results) and till to a depth of 4-6 inches.
3. Plant Selection and Placement
Know your plants’ adaptability to climate and region. Group plants with similar water needs (low, medium-low, medium-high). Place low water-use ground covers in hard to maintain areas (steep slopes, narrow strips).
4. Creating Practical Turf Areas
Carefully select turf according to its intended use. Turfgrass, when properly selected, designed and irrigated works very well in landscapes.
5. Efficient Irrigation
Irrigate according to the needs of the plants. Install irrigation system according to the landscape design. Make sure water is distributed uniformly and perform proper maintenance. Water late in the day to avoid water waste through evaporation.
6. Use of Mulch
Use mulch to reduce moisture evaporation and uniform soil temperatures while suppressing weeds.
7. Proper Maintenance
Check, adjust and repair the irrigation system. Aerate turf, replenish mulch and fertilize when needed. Properly prune and mow at the proper height with well-maintained equipment. Landscapes can be trained to survive using less water and still thrive.
Selecting the right plants is only one-seventh of the overall Xeriscape process. All seven principles should be addressed and performed to create and sustain a healthy landscape. Start with a good design, group your plants according to their water needs, water the plants according to their needs (regularly adjust the watering schedule), and conduct ongoing maintenance.
All plants have different watering needs. Give each plant only what it requires and no more. Ask a professional or follow the watering instructions that are supplied when purchasing the plant. There are many helpful resources available to do-it-yourself gardeners at local nurseries and garden centers.There are also many informative websites to choose from. Here are a few websites to help get you started:
www.coloradonga.org (calling all gardeners, nurseries in your area)
www.alcc.com (finding professional contractors)
www.greenco.org (water budget calculator; green industry best management practices)
www.rockymountainsodgrowers.com (turf varieties, installation guidelines)
www.gardencentersofcolorado.org (gardening resources; low water use plant list)
www.ext.colostate.edu (CSU horticultural menus, gardens, information)
www.flowertrials.colostate.edu (plants- what’s new)
http://csuturf.colostate.edu (turf varieties, water usage data)
www.botanicgardens.org (horticultural practices, plant selections
saver.denverwater.org (water run-time scheduler)
www.denverwater.org (Denver Water Xeriscape)