As time goes on we hear and read more and more about conserving water as cities grow. Factories are using water in their processing, pollution is increasing, and it becomes more and more important to become efficient in our use. There are a number of things we can do such as zoning or the placing of our plants according to their need for water.  Thus, put water lovers together so that only parts of our gardens need to be watered. Some of the water needers are newly planted trees and shrubs as well as new perennials.  Others are the shallow rooted ones such as rhododendrons, hydrangeas, many of our vegetables, impatiens, and lobelia. This will take a little planning and the need to know as much as possible about our plants. To make this easier, it will also probably work best to put the water lovers closer to the water source to lessen carrying hoses very far.

Knowing about and working with our soil becomes important.  Water tends to run off of clay soil. Much of our soil in Lincoln, Southeast Nebraska, and South Central Nebraska is clay with its tiny particles. So water starts to run off soon, and there is the need to stop and wait a short time before starting again. This makes watering rather time consuming. Instead we need to amend our soil so that it can receive and keep all the available moisture.  Adding compost to either clay or sandy soil will enable it to hold moisture better as well as does keeping mulch on top. Both compost in the soil and mulch on top keeps run off down by a large percent as they catch water and let it seep in.

Have you seen the stories on “rain gardens” in the newspaper and magazines? These were ideas on how to make or find a low place to catch any rain run off. These will keep fertilizer and pesticides from entering the drains or water ways cutting down on pollution.  They also hold the extra water in your yard to lessen the amount of watering.  If the yard has a steep slope that can be cut into a series of terraces the water will filter down each series of steps leaving less to run off.

I have noticed in a number of my garden catalogs, rain barrels of various types and sizes to save the run off from the roof.  There are even some that have several barrels attached to each other.  Back in Colorado where I grew up people had “cisterns” attached to their house gutters which contained large amounts of water. And many of the gardens were in a lower level so the water would drain into ditches between the rows in the garden.  These things all save water for the “moisture” plants which are separated from the “dry” ones.

Our dry gardens should be protected from wind as much as possible.  It dries out the plants, injures their stems, as well as drying up the soil.  Here good mulch from compost, wood chips, or straw will help a great deal while concrete and stones heat up and increase the loss of water.

Sometimes in a dry spring I make the row opening ahead of time, fill it with water and plant after drainage is finished.  This gives the seeds a starting chance.  Then I sometimes put a board over the row to keep the moisture in until the seeds start to come up.  This works well with corn as I have had birds follow my row and eat the corn while the soil is still soft.  I have also had birds, especially Robins, follow me down the line of mulch, tossing it to one side to find “critters” that might be loose in there.

Then at last, we start thinking about plants. Some are more efficient about water use by having long tap roots to reach down further. Others have many, many small roots that go in every direction to hunt for more water while others can store water in their roots.  Two of my houseplants, the POWDER PUFF, also know as FAIRY DUSTER, and BUDDA’S BELLY (Jatropha) store water in fat stems during wet season and drop their leaves to save water loss during dry season. The plants in the gray garden in the parkway, which I have mentioned in previous articles, are mostly dry surviving plants. Many are gray in color because of the hairs on their leaves which helps to keep them from losing water. Cacti are a good example of those plants that do not have leaves but instead thorns with a waxy covering to prevent the loss of water. Other drought tolerant plants have scales, thick leaves, or needle like ones with less surface to lose water.

Among the perennials I have found to be less water dependent in Nebraska, of course, are the natives.  There are several nurseries now that are specializing in “water wise” plants. My dry ones are BUTTERFLY MILKWEED, PURPLE POPPY MALLOW, TRUMPET VINE, GAILLARDIA, DAY LILIES, most of the IRIS species, MEXICAN HATS, LAMBS EARS, many of the GREY ARTEMESIAS, RUSSIAN SAGE, CAT MINT, CONEFLOWERS, and PENSTAMONS. Some of these I learned the hard way by watering too much.  Most of the ornamental grasses do well. One has to hunt to find some who actually prefer wet soil. I lost several BLUE SPIREAS (caryopteris) before I planted them on a slope so their roots would drain better.  YARROW will flop after a wet spring so I cut it all the way back and it tries again after it gets hotter and drier.

Annuals have to complete their life cycle in one summer so come up, bloom quickly to produce seed, and many will die back unless deadheaded.  Some have small leaves to preserve water, others have less pores on top. Among my dry annuals are COREOPSIS, COSMOS, CALIFORNIA POPPIES, the STRAW FLOWERS, MOSS ROSE, some of the SALVIAS, and our efficient ZINNIAS of all sizes and colors.  I like both the big ZINNIAS and the new Profusion series with their continuous bloom and bright colors.

Copyright 2014