Gardens in Santa Fe at this time of year are pretty dormant and drab. Unfortunately, this winter has not brought any relief to the drought that has plagued Santa Fe for the past seven years. While spring will come, as always, and our gardens will spring back to life, we need more than ever to plan for more drought tolerant and water efficient gardens. February is the month to plan your xeriscape garden. March is the time to start putting it in.
Xeriscape gardening does not mean sacrificing a lush, beautiful and diverse landscape. Xeriscape gardens can look beautiful year round and require only minimal additional watering, even in drought years. Xeriscape plants come in just about every size, texture, and flower color. When planning a xeriscape garden there are a few principles to keep in mind.
- Sacrifice the lawn. Instead, create a stone path, with xeric perennials and shrubs and grasses in groupings. If you must have turf, keep it small. Try native grasses or one of many other ground covers.
- Plant trees to add shade and change the micro climate. Trees or tall hedges can be planted in rows or clumps to create windbreaks or alone to create shade to cool the soil and slow evaporation.
- Flagstone, crushed gravel, and moss rock boulders can be very creative and beautiful as patios, paths, and planting bed accents. Bark chips, crushed pecan shells and compost can fill in empty spaces, protect the surrounding plants, and amend the soil.
- A small water feature such as a bubbling fountain or bird bath can create the feel of a desert oasis and uses much less very little water at all. Fountains re-circulate their water and loose only minimal amounts of water to evaporation. They are great for attracting wildlife.
- Utilize the zone system. Zone 1 is a small oasis near the house that gets the most water, and it is easy to use recycled gray water near the door.
- In zone 2, the transition zone, plant only plants that need minimal supplemental water. In zone 3, the outer yard, plant only completely native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs.
- Install a drip irrigation system. Emitters can be directed to the base of each plant so that there is no waste or evaporation.
- Harvest rain water from you gutters, and utilize berms and swales to guide rain water to the thirsty sections of you garden.
- Use container gardens for small but bold statements in color. Containers are not only for annuals, but look great with herbs, fruit trees, and even sages and cacti.
- Vegetables can be grown with appropriate soil amendments and mulch, as well as land contouring. Herbs can grow in any soil and tolerate drought.
- Utilize architectural elements by building walls or fences around your garden area to protect it from harsh, drying wind and sun. Orient your garden so that the house protects it too.