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I don’t know about where you live, but here in the US desert southwest, we are in a severe drought. Instead of the Rio Grande rushing from snow melt creating rapids for rafters, there are boulders and sandbars exposed from the low water levels. The river should be high, and rafting companies should be very busy. Sadly, they’re not.

Water levels are predicted to be low all summer. Irrigation ditches will probably only run once or twice instead of weekly, and here’s to hoping wells don’t start drying up. It’s time to conserve water in the house and the garden. People are asking me how to do this, but it’s am important gesture no matter where you live.

Blue Succulent drought tolerant plants

Blue succulent; “flowery”, and drought tolerant too.

 Gardens that conserve water

Gardening is not just about plants. There are many other aspects that combine to create an entire landscape, and they can be put into use to save water. Good plant choices for a drought tolerant yard are those that thrive in dry climates. For our area, native plants are the most effective. They are already acclimated to the elements, and that is true of your area, too. Even if you live in a woodland area, plants are used to a drought now and then. They wouldn’t grow there if they didn’t have that capability. So first choose native plants.

Other ways plants conserve water is with a taproot. Many of our native plants have a single deep root that reaches deep water levels. Plants with fuzzy leaves also hold onto moisture. Some plants have fleshy leaves, such as succulents and cacti. They store water in their leaves for dry spells. Plants with leathery leaves don’t transpire as much. The tough covering of the leaf holds water in. Also, foliage that is fine, feathery or deeply cut has less surface area for water to evaporate from.

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How to plan a drought tolerant garden

Drought tolerant plants do not have the showy flowers of other plants, but you can depend on their interesting colors and textures for an attractive yard. Also many of them attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Evergreens need very little water once they are established. Choose conifers for trees, shrubs and groundcovers for a water wise landscape.

Once you have chosen your plants, use a drip irrigation system or soaker hoses for watering. These deliver water right to the soil. The emitters on a drip system are placed right at the base of the plant, so water goes right to the roots. A soaker hose delivers water to the entire bed, not just the plants. Sprinklers waste water, which gets sent to areas you are not intending to water. It also evaporates in the air before it ever reaches the plants.

How to water a drought tolerant garden

Hardscaping sustainable gardeningThe best time to water is in the morning hours. In mid-day, plants are transpiring, releasing water to cope with the heat. The morning is cool, plants are not stressed, and they can use that water during the day. Evening watering is ok, but could result in diseases from the plants cooling off at night. This depends on your area. I don’t worry about it here, because it is so dry. In more humid climates, evening watering is not recommended. Put your watering system on a timer to work the best and to water while you are gone.

When you have planted your bed, water it thoroughly, and cover it with decorative mulch. Bark chips are most commonly used, but find out at your nursery what local products there might be. Mulch keeps the moisture in the ground, so you don’t have to water as often. It also cuts down on weeds, which means less work for you.

Hardscaping accents greenery

You can always cut back on how much yard to plant, too. Consider hardscaping accented with greenery. An attractive, winding walkway that leads to a focal point or a sitting area can be made of permeable material that allows water to soak into the ground. This prevents run-off and erosion, too. Permeable weed mat covered with creative pavers and gravel can make a beautiful entry way to your front door.

Boulders can be placed in a garden to look natural and used instead of plants. A patio or deck instead of a large flowerbed is another option for reducing the amount of plants in the yard.

Water conservation is crucial

Saving water is not only about plants! There are many ways to conserve water, which is crucial in the 21st century. Please consider doing your part, no matter where you live. Future generations will thank you!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.