Waterwise Gardening

Article written by Saturday6TM blogger Helen Yoest from Gardening with Confidence

There was a time when I thought of water as a renewable resource. Deep down, I still want to believe this. Although our water supply does get recharged (some years are better than others), the distribution of this water over my property varies. Each year, the gain isn't necessarily equal to the loss - sometimes we take more than nature gives.

Since I come from a land of 44 inches of rain a year, you may be surprised to hear me touting waterwise garden design. Out West, this is a way of life. However, on the East Coast, we have been experiencing long periods of drought in recent years. If Raleigh's annual rainfall came an inch a week, there would be little need for a waterwise design. But it doesn't. Summers, in particular, can be hot and dry. It wasn't until we were experiencing the worst drought in 100 years, with outdoor watering restrictions and no major rain in sight, that I began to take note.

Waterwise gardening is not new, but gardeners seem to have drifted from understanding the benefits and techniques of waterwise design. This strategy is not limited to gardening in a drought, but is a practical and effective way to garden anywhere, while at the same time promoting good environmental stewardship of our land and water.

The main way to achieve a waterwise design is to group plants with similar needs together. My design has saved me countless hours of watering, plus the cost associated with that. But I soon realized a water-saving design also cemented a map of my garden and thereby simplified my plant purchases.

In the past, before acquiring a plant, I would only think of the plant's sun requirements. If it needed extra water and I loved the plant, I didn't pay much attention to where I'd plant it. I assumed that I would stay on top of its needs. I rarely did, of course. Now when I select a plant, I think of not only the sun requirements, but water requirements as well. I know exactly where in my garden the plant can go, based on the map of my waterwise garden. Today, I'll put a plant back on the shelf if I can't meet its sun requirements and also find room in the appropriate bed. Although it was hard at first, looking back, I have no regrets. With so many great plants out there, I'll just keep looking for those that meet my needs.

Remember, too, waterwise isn't limited to drought-tolerant plants. It's a planting scheme that uses all different kinds of plants, from agaves to tropicals, and places them into efficient beds based on their various watering needs. The beds in a waterwise garden are divided into three gardening zones: oasis, transitional and xeric.

The oasis zone is the area closest to the water source. These sources can be drain spouts, rain barrels, or a faucet and hose. Also include the area around the front door as an oasis, where you can easily water your container plants with water collected indoors.

The transitional zone is the area away from the house, about midway from the home to the end of the property. Plantings here should be sustainable, requiring only occasional supplemental water. Typically, these areas are island beds, driveway beds or raised beds.

The xeric zone is at the property's perimeter. These plants should be tough and should not require supplemental water. This area can be filled with dependable, drought-resistant plants.

It's not difficult to be water wise. Get a rain gauge, and pay attention to the local rainfall. Only water when plants need watering. Even the thirstiest plants, once established, only need about an inch of water a week. (However, container gardens may need daily watering in the heat of the summer.) Remember to mulch - its moisture-trapping ability will be your best defense against drought!