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.

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