by David Salman
Gardening in the arid climates of western North America has always been a challenge. Of all the factors that affect plant cultivation out west, the lack of moisture and limited water resources are two of our foremost challenges.
Back in the early 1980's, to address the lack of water issue and promote water conservation, the concept of Xeriscaping was introduced. With over 35 years of experience gardening in the high desert of northern New Mexico, I've used these principles as guideposts to make myself and other gardeners more successful in our gardening and landscaping efforts.
The Importance of Eco-Friendly Xeriscaping
Based on hands-on learning, I have fine-tuned and modified the original tenants of xeriscaping to create the "The High Country Gardens Principles of Eco-Friendly Xeriscaping" (listed below at the end of this blog). All of these principles are applicable and should be used in gardens and landscapes all across the US, not just the western half of the country.
But Principle #7, "Water Harvesting" is obviously not a big concern for regions that receive ample precipitation. Yet, it's still essential that gardeners focus on their water resources by protecting water quality that can be adversely affected by gardening and landscaping.
- Reducing or eliminating water run-off contaminated with chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Lawns are the primary source of this type of pollution.
- Slowing the velocity of stormwater run-off to prevent the erosion and riparian habitat damage so to allow it to soak into the ground to recharge aquifers. Rain gardens are recommended for this problem.
Along with oxygen, water is essential for life on our planet. And it's our most valuable, irreplaceable resource. We must protect our surface and groundwater resources by:
Chemical use on lawns is the #1 source of water pollution from residential and commercial landscapes.
Fertilizers are highly soluble and the nitrogen and phosphorous contained in these fertilizers cause damaging algal bloom in our ponds and lakes, thus contaminating our drinking water sources. And nitrogen that seeps into our water tables is highly detrimental to our health and the health of our pets and farm animals.
Just say "NO" to weed-n-feed lawn fertilizers! (As of 2012, these combination fertilizer/pesticide products were banned in Canada because of health concerns.) Reject chemical lawn care and only use organic or natural fertilizers and pesticides (if needed) to keep your lawn healthy. And the same goes for the rest of our yards.
Garden naturally and organically, avoiding chemical fertilizers and toxic insecticides/herbicides. The TV adds make these garden chemicals seem so safe, but the hidden damage from extended use is long-term and insidious.
Rain gardens are a practical and beautiful way to take water from roof run-off and allow it to be cleansed by plant roots as it soaks into the soil. By using plants that tolerant to fluctuating wet/dry soil moisture to plant shallow depressions, clean water can percolate down into our water tables to recharge our wells and eliminate erosion and damage to riparian habitats along our streams and rivers.
"The High Country Gardens Principles of Eco-Friendly Xeriscaping"
Save yourself time, effort and money while enhancing the environment using simple these principles.
- Planning and Design
- Use a wide diversity of plants that create habitat for songbirds and provide nectar and pollen for pollinators.
- Design for low maintenance.
- Plant deciduous trees to shade the house and conserve energy.
- Group plants by water needs.
- Care for your lawn organically.
- Use groundcovers where it’s too shady for grass.
- Use xeric native and selected Old World grasses/sedges to create low water lawns.
- Use native and Old-World plants best suited to your soil, climate and growing conditions; create resiliency in your landscape.
- Your goal is to maintain a healthy, living soil by using organic composts and fertilizers, not chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
- Use mulches to save water, reduce weeding, and improve transplanting success.
- Use efficient methods such as drip irrigation and soaker hoses for flower beds.
- Water more deeply and less frequently.
- Direct water onto your landscape, not the street/storm drains.
- Use rain gardens in wetter climates.
- Use organic and natural products where ever possible.
- Fertilize in the fall.
- Leave perennials and ornamental grasses standing over the winter.
- Check and repair irrigation systems each spring.
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