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.

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