Pamplin Media Group – GARDENING JOURNEYS: April showers and water-efficient gardening

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Water-conscious gardening practices are essential in central Oregon landscapes

April showers at last! March was pretty dry and I found myself dragging hoses to water for days towards the end of the month. My orchard and ornamental shrubs were thirsty.

Fifteen years ago I planted a number of plants that require too much water by today’s standards. With the last years of drought, and because we all share water resources, each of us has the responsibility to use it wisely. If you feel the same way, it’s not too late to make some changes. In recent years, I have opted more for aquatic and native plants. So I enjoyed the April 2 webinar on water gardening hosted by the Master Gardeners of Central Oregon. They shared their experience designing, planting and maintaining the Hollinshead Water-wise Garden in Bend, and how anyone can implement change in their own backyard. If you missed it, you can pick up the publication “Waterwise Gardening in Central Oregon” at the OSU Extension Office at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds Building, or view the publication online at : https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9136/html

The publication includes a number of low-water plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers that are hardy to central Oregon. It also presents the steps to follow for the development of a waterscape. If you are interested, read on.

Step One: Assess your situation and come up with a plan to make the best use of the space. Consider how much time you can spend on maintenance, your yard, sun exposure, and storm water runoff, among other things. Do you want shade plants, fragrant flowers or a pollinator-friendly garden?

Step two: effective irrigation. Group plants by water needs and install the type of irrigation that suits those needs. There are many search options. Also, you can take advantage of rain chains for extra watering.

Step Three: Learn your soil type and how to amend it to maximize water retention and provide a nutrient rich environment. Healthy soil improves the water holding capacity and aeration of your plants.

Step Four: Turf and Alternatives. Sod lawn is good for a firebreak near the house and keeps dust on the ground, but requires a lot of water if not in use. You may want to reduce the size by digging out a few and replacing them with low water shrubs, bushy grasses, ground cover or a dry stream bed.

Fifth step: selection of plants. You can have a beautiful, diverse garden while still conserving water. Pay attention to the microclimates in your garden. The north side of my house provides protection for plants that are decimated by southern winds, while the south side supports those that love the sun and tolerate the heat. Local garden centers can guide you, and most plant tags give the cultural needs of the plant, so you can group plants with similar sun and water needs accordingly. Be sure to note the mature size of the plant (I’m guilty) to allow for proper spacing. Don’t overlook native plants as they are often aquatic and provide additional food sources for bees, birds and butterflies. Look for hardy plants that can survive in zone 3 to 5.

Sixth step: Mulching is a top dressing for the soil. It helps reduce weeds, minimize evaporation, cool the soil and prevent soil erosion. Bark mulch and compost add nutrients while retaining moisture. I’ve found shredded hemlock that sticks to the ground and doesn’t fly away. Using colored crushed stone as mulch is both attractive and fire safe.

Seventh step: Maintenance. Think about your available time and resources, now and for the time you plan to stay on the property. Consider routine tasks such as pruning, mowing, weeding, fertilizing and watering. Sprinkler systems often need replacement parts, or you end up using more water. Even the springs in my above ground drip system are leaking! Perennials and trees particularly benefit from less frequent, but thorough watering. And the weeding never stops. Remember that weeds consume valuable water.

We can all be better stewards of our limited water supplies. (Myself included.) Be aware that this column contains only a fraction of the information located in the post. Worth reading for all Central Oregonians. This brings me to my topic next month on Fire-Based Landscaping. Stay tuned for more gardening tips.


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