Whether you call them water-wise, drought-smart, or xeric, methods of gardening that contribute to the conservation of water are essential to ecosystem preservation on a global level. Let’s face it, we’re seeing an increase in the desertification of land and freshwater rationing in many parts of the world. The writing is on the wall and we’re going to have to learn to embrace techniques to save this precious resource before it’s too late.
Fortunately, as gardeners, this is well within our grasp.
The benefits of planting water-wise trees and shrubs are obvious – they’re the ones you ignore, neglect, walk on past. Those 40 year old lilacs? Yep – they’re fine. Your lamb’s ears and karl foerster reed grass – check! The 30′ tall aspen and poplars? No problem, they’ll take care of themselves. The weeping birch on my neighbour’s lawn? Well, that’s a different story.
Alberta is a diverse place. For example, Calgary and Edmonton, though only about 300 kms apart, are different climatically. Calgary is classified as a cool, dry, continental climate. We’re a semi-desert, meaning little precipitation, we have a high elevation, meaning great temperature range with little heat retention, and are subject to chinooks, which can mean a 30 degree temperature change in mere hours. Despite all the ribbing we give to Edmontonians about their frigid weather, all that adds up to a longer growing season in Edmonton than in Calgary. Really.
Let’s get back to the birch. Weeping birch is native to Europe and in a locale subject to rain in quantities that far exceed ours. In order to keep your weeping birch happy, you’ve got to add water, and we’re talking about 200 L per week, more if it’s hot and your tree is transpiring a lot of water out of its leaves. So, is the weeping birch a water-wise plant? Absolutely not. Do you need to cut it down? No. Instead, let’s talk about how to manage our current spaces in a more conscious fashion.
You can begin by taking a critical look at your garden and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
Are your plants organized by water requirements?
By grouping your water-loving or drought-tolerant plants together in beds, you create areas that naturally retain water and which allow you to ration your watering accordingly. Don’t overlook shrubs and trees when making this assessment. Once established their root systems will reach far so look to the drip lines of these plants rather than at the trunks or stems.
How much lawn do you have?
Turf requires about one inch of water per week so if you’re not interested in limiting your lawn, implement measuring devices to ensure you’re not overwatering it or trimming it too much (a shorter lawn is a water-hungry lawn).
Where does water gather?
If you’re not harvesting your rainwater, ensure you’re directing your downspouts to water-loving plants and trees as opposed to the street or sewer. Make the most of this free resource.
Understand your microclimates and choose the right plant for the right place.
Ensure that your drought-tolerant plants are placed on south/west facing slopes, areas of higher elevation, and in areas of high soil drainage. Learn where your sunny, windy, wet, and dry areas are and choose plants that excel in those spaces. You’ll have happier plants, fewer pest problems, and a more efficient garden.
Amend your soil and use mulch.
Test your soil and amend to hold water as necessary. Use natural mulch to continue the amendment of your soil over the years, to keep moisture in your soil, and as a natural weed deterrent.
There is one bit of fine print: even newly planted, drought-resistant plants will require some watering until their root system is well established.
By maintaining the health of your plants and incorporating the techniques mentioned above, you’ll soon have an eco-friendly garden that will satisfy you for years to come.