Principals of Water-Conserving Gardens

April, 2017

People often assume that a low-water using landscape has to be barren and dry, and that it is characterized by a predominance of rocks and cacti.  This could not be further from the truth.  Through incorporating a series of principles and practices relating to water conserving landscapes, you can create attractive and sustainable gardens that are lush and colorful, that are characterized by an abundance of shade, and that also save water and money.  The principles and practices of water conserving landscapes will prove useful whether your garden is small or large, and whether you are creating a new garden or upgrading an existing one.  This article briefly identifies these principles and practices, which will be discussed in more detail in forthcoming articles.

 An example of a water conserving garden that incorporates drought tolerant plants including Marguerite ( Argyranthemum frutescens ) ,  Rosemary   ( Rosmarinus officinalis ), and Lavender Cotton ( Santolina chamaecyparissus ).

An example of a water conserving garden that incorporates drought tolerant plants including Marguerite (Argyranthemum frutescens), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus).

Water-wise planning and design
Start with an accurate plan of the site, identify site problems and potentials, and develop a list of needs to be incorporated in the plan. As your plan begins to take form, divide the landscape into high, moderate, and low water-use zones.

Creation of paved areas
Combine paved areas with planted ones, and limit lawn areas as much as possible.  Paving materials come in a wide variety of shapes, textures, and colors, and provide attractive, almost maintenance-free surfaces that can serve various utilitarian and recreational purposes.

Harvesting rainwater for landscape use
Harvested rainwater is a renewable source of clean water that is ideal for landscape use. A variety of water harvesting systems are available that can effectively meet the needs of new and existing, as well as small and large gardens.

Appropriate plant selection
There are a wide variety of beautiful drought-tolerant plants from which you can choose that offer different sizes, shapes, and color. As you begin to select and introduce these plants into your landscape, take care to group plants of similar water requirements together.

Efficient irrigation
Efficient irrigation practices allow you to provide plants with their water needs without waste and promote healthy plant growth. There are numerous irrigation systems that differ greatly in their performance, efficiency, and cost.

Use of mulches
Typical mulches include bark chips, pine straw, and inert materials such as crushed stone and river run rock.  Their use as a layer covering the soil is a highly beneficial landscape practice.  Mulches are very effective in combating drought as they reduce water evaporation. They also inhibit weed growth as well as reduce salt build up and soil compaction, while enhancing the aesthetic appeal of your landscape.

Appropriate maintenance
Water conserving landscapes are generally low maintenance ones. Gardeners often tend to over-fertilize, over-water, and over-prune in a traditional garden. Fertilizing less often using small amounts of fertilizer, and pruning only when necessary will help you obtain a beautiful and low-maintenance garden.

 River run rock can provide an attractive ground cover that also serves to reduce water evaporation, inhibit weed growth, as well as reduce salt build up and soil compaction.

River run rock can provide an attractive ground cover that also serves to reduce water evaporation, inhibit weed growth, as well as reduce salt build up and soil compaction.

 Myrtle ( Myrtus communis ): A drought tolerant ornamental plant that is suitable for screens and formal hedges. (image credit Osman Akoz).

Myrtle (Myrtus communis): A drought tolerant ornamental plant that is suitable for screens and formal hedges. (image credit Osman Akoz).

 Russian Olive Tree ( Elaeagnus angustifolia ):   A drought tolerant tree distinguished by its fragrant summer flowers and silver foliage.  (image credit: Osman Akoz)

Russian Olive Tree (Elaeagnus angustifolia): A drought tolerant tree distinguished by its fragrant summer flowers and silver foliage.  (image credit: Osman Akoz)