Monday, October 10, 2011

Xeriscaping Part IV: Naturalized Xeriscaping

Naturalized xeriscaping is another way to reduce your water usage. Despite the name naturalized xeriscaping is more about matching the right plants with the right location. Additionally you should have a preference for plants that are natives or well adapted. In a prior article I did discuss how the term 'native' has become an unfortunate victim of over-branding. For note the problem with 'native' plants these days is that the natural range of some plants could make them native to a continent but not necessarily native to your precise region. Also these natives could become invasive outside of their natural habitats which is a major problem for the obvious reasons.  There are three steps to creating a natural looking xeriscaped garden.

1. Improve your soil.
Soil improvement is critical, if only for the long-term survival of the plants you will install. In effect soil improvement is exactly like building an quality foundation for your house  since in the case of plants everything about their success or failure hinges on the soil quality. In terms of natural xeriscaped gardens that also include flowering or food-bearing plants soil quality is a must as there are simply certain soil-borne nutrients that no applied fertilizer can ever match. A deep rich soil  will also promote excellent root growth and thus exceptional hardiness which is critical to reducing water needs and improving plant vigor.

2. The Right Plant
Picking the right plant is sometimes a matter of trial and error,  certain plants just cannot handle the climate in which you live. A good example of this problem can be found in the difficulties of growing tomatoes in the south. The tomatoes are an excellent vegetable crop in the north but a average one in the south this is due to the heat humidity and extended periods of drought. A good replacement could be eggplant, peppers or smaller size tomatoes all of which can withstand the heat and still bear with regularity.

3. The Right Location
The location of your bed is critical because exposure to wind, rain and sun can affect your  plants greatly. For instance lavender cannot withstand the full southern sun, humidity and, the depleted sandy soils of the sand hills of North Carolina. So what a good gardener must do is enrich the soil  space the plants and put the plants in a location with good air circulation that is partial shade.

The interplay of shapes forms and colors in a naturalized xeriscaping garden can in fact reduce your irrigation woes significantly.  Some times for the sake of form you have to have a plant that is not fond of full sun out in a full sun location, the only way to make it work is to find a taller plant to offer it shade that is equally deciduous or evergreen. With naturalized xeriscaping form becomes more important as there are less hard features such as boulders or stone work  so the plants themselves have to stand out. For instance, a tall 'San Gabriel' Nandina with the support of some 'Silver Mound' artemesia and 'Angelina' sedum forms a structural, colorful blend of plants all of which are evergreen and shine at certain times of the year. The Nandina is bright red in fall and it's lacy leaves allow you to see through it to the plants below, the sedum is orange-red in summer and blooms in late winter, while the artemesia has silver foliage all year and yellow flowers in early summer. All of these plants are drought, heat and humidity tolerant and need little else then good soil and an occasional mulching to keep weeds down.

To summarize, naturalized xeriscaping isn't the xeriscaping you read about in the horticulture magazines it is a differing animal that discards the conventional plants of xeriscaping. The trade-off is that you get more plants to work with, yet the downside is that if you love cacti and succulents you might feel the concept is too open. Either way all of the readers out there should give it a shot, and feel free to get creative. If you have any comments thoughts or questions feel free to post them up here or email me though the email listed to this blog.

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