The following is a reproduction of the article which appeared in
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 28, 1992, about Weston Gardens.
We’ve been lucky the past few years. Above-average rainfall has kept landscapes green while reducing the need for watering – and lowering water bills at the same time.
Don’t expect this fortuitous situation to last forever. And when more normal – meaning drier – conditions return, expect to see your yard turn brown and your flowers droop. Unless of course, you’re prepared for frequent watering – and a resumption of higher water bills.
On top of that, water itself is unlikely to get less expensive. “All the cheap water has been found in the United States,” said Doug Welsh, extension horticulturist for Texas A&M University. “The price of water is going to go up.”
Vast quantities of water go to landscaping, he pointed out. The Fort Worth Water Department, for example, estimates that approximately half of all summertime water use in the city is for landscaping. So the homeowner will be forced to decide “Do I wan to irrigate, or do I want to save some money?” Welsh said in a recent interview.
The answer, he and other experts believe, is xeriscaping.
Xeriscaping means “quality, water-efficient landscaping,” says a new book, Xeriscape Gardening: Water Conservation for the American Landscape (Macmillan, $30 in hardcover). Welsh is one of the authors, along with Connie Lockhart Ellefson and Thomas L. Stephens. (He pronounces it ZEER-i-scaping.)
The goal, Welsh said, is “to develop landscapes that will survive on Mother Nature’s rainfall. That does not mean it’s the moon [in appearance]. The moon is ugly. It’s got to be beautiful.”
Reality belies the stereotypical image of a xeriscape – cactus and rocks. A xeriscape can be lush with flowers, green with ground cover, shady or sunny or combinations thereof. Numerous plants are appropriate for this area (more about that later), but equally important is their placement.
“All plants are xeriscape plants,” Welsh said. “It’s not which plant you use, but where you put it.” The book explains that a “xeriscape plant” is on that is “adapted to the region in terms of heat, cold, soil, etc…Your objective should be to carefully match the moisture requirements of plants to the best microclimate available for them in your landscape… a moisture-loving perennial, for instance, could still find a home in a dry-climate Xeriscape landscape if given some shade, protection from wind, moisture-retentive soil amendments, and drip irrigation if needed.”
The book divides plantings into three categories: those that require regular watering – turf grass or bedding plants; those that need occasional watering – many perennials and most woody shrubs; and those needing only natural rainfall – most trees and some woody shrubs. The key is to “group like plants together so as not to overwater one while meeting the water needs of the others,” Welsh said.
Randy and Sue Weston, owners of Weston Gardens in Bloom in southeast Fort Worth, have followed xeriscaping principles at the nursery and at their 10-acre estate across the road. Their home is surrounded by lawns, a shady patio hugged by flower beds, formal and informal gardens and natural areas, much of it planted in native or adapted trees, shrubs and flowers. In front of the nursery is a bed that gets watered only every three or four weeks.
Seven principles guide xeriscaping. They are:
> Planning and design: This is similar to any landscape design project, taking into consideration uses for various areas of the landscape. A design needn’t be implemented all at once but can be phased over several years.
> Soil analysis and improvement: Prepare beds properly and add compost or humus. If you’re planting a tree, place the tree and refill the hole with the soil you dug out of it; if you improve the soil in the hole, the roots tend to confine themselves to the new soil. Welsh said.
> Practical turf areas: Turf is the highest user of water in the landscape, so limiting the size of the lawn helps save water, Welsh said. Patios and planting beds are attractive alternatives. Also, avoid long, narrow areas of grass, which are hard to water without wasting water. Consider ground covers with steppingstones instead.
> Appropriate plant selection: Drought-tolerant plants have several characteristics in common, including small leaf size; gray, fuzzy or finely divided foliage; a low-growing habit; and scent (such as herbs).
Even though the goal is to minimize watering, plants need more water while becoming established. Your water use might rise for the first year after doing a major planting, but it should go down after that, the book says. “With many water-thirsty species, however, we will likely be tied to watering as long as we want the plant to live.”
> Efficient irrigation: A sprinkler system is one alternative; drip irrigation is another. Weston uses drip irrigation hoses in flower beds, burying them under mulch wherever possible for a natural look. Water drips slowly for three or four hours at a time to soak the soil.
> Mulching: “Everybody needs to mulch” to hold water in the soil and reduce weeds. Walsh said. Organic mulches are considered preferable to inorganic ones such as stones, which absorb heat. Randy Weston mentioned shredded materials such as cypress or oak as his favorite mulches; they decompose rather slowly, tend not to wash out of the beds and offer an attractive texture. Three or 4 inches of mulch is ideal, but even an inch or so helps.
> Appropriate maintenance: This includes mowing the grass higher than usual: for St. Augustine, cutting it to 3 inches when it reaches 4 inches; mowing Bermuda to I inch; mowing buffalo grass from 6 inches down to 4 inches once a month. “The taller the grass, the deeper the root system,” Welsh said. Don’t fertilize the lawn in the summer, that only fuels growth and hence water use, he explained.
Just don’t make the mistake of expecting xeriscaping to mean no maintenance, Weston noted. :There’s no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape,” he said. “These come closer – but all landscapes need to be fertilized and weeded.”
What to plant for Xeriscape
Here are some of Welsh’s and Weston’s favorite plants for North Central Texas xeriscapes:
Trees and shrubs: Whitebud, Mexican plum, crape myrtle, photinia, rusty blackhaw viburnum, Carolina buckthorn, nandina, boxwood, burford holly, Indian hawthorn, wax myrtle, Mexican buckeye, Eve’s necklace, smoke tree, possumhaw holly (deciduous yaupon).
Turf grass: St. Augustine, Bermuda, zoysia, buffalo grass.
Plants for shade: English ivy, monkey grass, wood fern, holly fern, hosta, liriope, hypericum, columbine, inland sea oats.
Plants for sun: Asiatic jasmine, some junipers such as blue rug or carpet juniper, moonbeam coreopsis, day lilies, salvia indigo spires, salvia greggii, bearded iris, lamb’s ear, purple loosestrife (lythrum), lantana, veronica, purple robe, purple coneflower, yarrow, fall sedum, lobelia, turk’s cap, coral honeysuckle, bird of paradise, Bowle’s wallflower (Cheiranthus), Crossvine, American beautyberry.
By CAROL NUCKOLS
FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
X marks the spot
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