Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Xeriscaping Part III: Ornamental Xeriscaping

With noticeable delay comes part three of the xeriscaping series, today we will be discussing ornamental xeriscaping.
Ornamental xeriscaping is exactly what most think of when the word xeriscaping comes to mind. While ornamental landscapes have their inherent aesthetic value they also can play a further functional role towards conservation.  It is already  well understood that the placement of deciduous trees can reduce heating and cooling bills of a household but little beyond the obvious is stated of the bill-reducing effects of a xeriscaped garden. Generally it is noted that xeriscaped gardens reduce your watering bill because they need reduced  amounts of irrigation.  What is not known is that with the right placement and plant selection xeriscaped gardens can also act as a effective windbreak to reduce the effects of either hot or cold wind and may serve as a protective layer for more sensitive plants or as a buffer zone to augment a protective layer of deciduous trees. Additionally certain xeriscape-compatible can act as a living mulch which in turn counters erosion of topsoil and can provide an attractive weed-block saving you time, money and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Some good plants for this use include Agave, Euphorbia, Ice Plant, Portulaca,  Prickly Pear, Ornamental Sage, Sedum and, Yucca.

Most often agave is seen in the southeast as a perennial whereas up north it's treated as if it is a tropical. The most common variety is Agave americana which is slow growing but thankfully is quite rugged and can form an attractive centerpiece when paired with a living mulch.

Best known for the Poinsettia, the euphorbia family has a number of perennial members that make for interesting color and shape contrasts for a xeriscaped garden. While generally not very long-lived as far as landscaping plants go it does make a striking addition to a otherwise monotone garden.

Ice Plant
Ice plants are an attractive flowering plant to consider for the xeriscaping garden. The name Ice plant comes from the sparkling appearance of the leaves which at a distance makes the plant appear to be coated in a light frost. The flowers come in shades of pink, red and yellow and are daisy-like in appearance. Ice plants form a dense mound of foliage that can be used to contrast other darker hued foliage or to soften angular foliage on plants such as agave or yucca.

Commonly called Purselane, Portulaca  is both edible but also drought tough. Purselane is known to form low mats of rich green foliage with red stems. As a primary advantage Purselane  can endure drought and with a little water it produces large numbers of large flowers in hues of red, yellow, pink and orange all on an annual plant who may reseed.

Prickly Pear
To be specific I mean Opuntia humifusa, which is the only solidly hardy type for the south east. Thankfully you can get spineless varieties of prickly pear to make gardening easy. Otherwise if you want a impenetrable wall of spiny herbicide resistant cactus in a few short years prickly pear will be all that. The large yellow or pink flowers are borne in sprin or early summer and are followed by bright red fruits in fall. Established stands can occupy entire hillsides and grow up to three feet tall.

Ornamental Sage
When you say sage most think of the annuals or the cooking spices but there are a large variety of sages that are both perennial and almost drought immune. The best of the group is Black Sage Salvia mellifera which looks like common sage but has a more pungent aroma. For note it is one of the three plants that make up sage brush and has interesting flowers as well.

Sedum is  commonly called stone crop, and is one of the most diverse perennial succulents one can buy at a garden center. Sedum is one of the most versatile landscaping plants because numerous foliage shapes, sizes and colors can be had and it's flower stalks

Yucca is about as tough as xeriscaping plants come. Commonly called Spanish Bayonet or Adam's needle. Overall most yucca will form a mound that resembles a Dracena or corn plant on steroids. The leaves do have fine serrations and the tips are spiked, which makes careful handling a must. Overall with time yucca can form a dense impenetrable barrier that with age will spread by rhizomes. Once mature a yucca will produce tall flower stalks covered in white or cream colored bell-shaped flowers.

Next is part four of the xeriscaping series which covers naturalized xeriscaping which will be posted shortly.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Xeriscaping Part II: Agricultural Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is generally thought of as an ornamental garden concept, which is fine since the majority of the time it is. With the effects of climate change, it is crucial to find a way to feed ourselves and yet not use as much water to do so. It is safe to say that most cultures that have thrived in arid regions have already unlocked this secret but for some reason it has not taken hold in America as one would expect.  Fortunately without genetic meddling there is a number of plants that can produce ample crops with minimal water A few of these plants are listed below.

Fruiting Plants
Despite popular belief, it is quite possible to grow fruiting plants under arid conditions with good results. The key to fruit production under such conditions is to ensure soil quality and provide supplemental irrigation until the plants are well established. With some careful placement most fruiting plants can be quite productive.
- Figs, Olives, Persimmon, Pomegranate.

Vegetables are somewhat easier to utilize in a xeriscaping climate due to their adaptability  and high nutrient value. Surprisingly certain vegetables even have ornamental value as their foliage can be quite attractive when used in the right  combinations with other plants. Agricultural xeriscaping compatible vegetables can be broken up into several categories based on what parts you eat. Leaf vegetables include Amaranth, Asparagus, Chicory, Dandelions, and Prickly Pear. Vegetables where one eats the 'fruit' of the plant that work well with xeriscaping include Currant-type Tomatoes, Garden Huckleberry, Ground Cherry, Peppers, Prickly pear (fruit), tomatillo and wonder-berries.  Grain vegetables should also be considered and they are a core staple, Sesame, Millet and Corn* are two good examples of drought tolerant grains. Lastly one must consider the vegetables in which we eat or use the roots. The root vegetable grouping includes Carrot, Chicory** and , Dandelion**.

Thankfully growing herbs in arid situations is quite easy as many common herbs hate wet feet and will tolerate drought quite well once established. As a general rule of thumb, if the herb your considering has large soft leaves that bruise easily it is like unsuitable for use as a xeriscaping herb. Also one might also want to consider the herb's native range and if it can become invasive. For instance in the right region rosemary can become borderline invasive yet in others it is a well behaved shrub. Some reliable herbs for agricultural xeriscaping include; Artemesia, Eucalyptus, Germander, Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Sage, Santolina, Tansy, Tarragon, Yarrow.

In short, with some good planning and careful site preparation one should be able to produce excellent quality food with minimal waste of water and use of resources.  Despite what you might read in the horticulture magazines and see on television, xeriscaping does not have to be just for show. Check back on Friday for the next edition of  LITFM's Xeriscaping series, the topic will be Ornamental Xeriscaping. Also I'd like tot hank everyone who has purchased a copy of the book, Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern gardening; thanks to all of you the first print run is almost sold out. A few remaining copies can be bought at Watching Booksellers in Montclair New Jersey! For those wondering The second print run is coming up will be available through and will have some neat surprises included.

*only the heritage or heirloom types.
** The roots of these plants are used as coffee substitutes.