Xeriscape Demonstration Garden Showcases Plants That Will Thrive With Less Water
A xeriscape garden is a garden designed with water conservation in mind. Water is a finite natural resource and these gardens help conserve water while beautifying our landscapes.
Xeriscape Gardens use sustainable trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs. The Shawnee County Extension Master Gardeners’ Xeriscape Demonstration Garden is designed to show plants that grow with little water and care in local weather and soil conditions.
In a xeriscape garden, sunlight is a key factor and protecting your plants from direct sun or afternoon sun can improve the plants’ ability to hold water. Planting small, medium, and large trees can all help shade (fully or partially) plants to reduce water loss through evaporation or heat stress. Structures such as arbors and buildings can also help, but in some cases buildings can reflect heat, making the garden warmer.
Soils always play a vital role in healthy gardens and a xeriscape garden is no exception. Soils rich in organic matter with the proper pH and nutrients contribute to healthy plants that can better withstand conditions of low water or drought.
Above the soil, an organic mulch like wood chips, shredded newspaper or compost will help keep water in the soil and cool the soil surface and plant roots. A 1 to 2 inch layer around plants in the garden will also prevent weed competition and prevent hard clay scabs from forming.
Even in a xero-landscape garden, water is essential, even if it is scarce. During the first years of establishment, all plants need a sufficient amount of water to survive. In our demonstration garden, newly planted plants are given water for one to three years before they are considered established and allowed to grow with just rainfall. For trees, this time frame is closer to three to five years before they are considered established. In years of extreme drought, even the plants in an xeriscape garden should be watered to prevent plant loss.
Good watering practice is to give plants a long, slow glass of water infrequently, rather than short bursts of water often. Use a dowel or rod to check how deep your water is entering the ground in a given time, then use that set time to move forward. For small shrubs, flowers, and grass, soil moisture should reach 4 to 6 inches. For tall shrubs and trees, the water should penetrate closer to 10 inches, but also in a larger ring around the plants.
Plant selection is the key to designing a xeriscape garden. Only native or non-native plants proven to be well adapted to our climate should be used. Our garden is a great showcase for plants that can tolerate or even thrive in low water conditions.
In the spring of 2021, we started a QR code project that added interchangeable QR codes to our garden so that a quick scan using your smartphone camera gives you additional information about the plants on display. .
We also have a short survey that visitors can complete for a chance to win one of our tote bags filled with goodies from local businesses. We hope that the addition of these QR codes will improve the educational element of our garden and encourage visitors to include xeriscape principles and plants in their home gardens.
Please visit the Garden at any time, located west of the entrance to the Shawnee County Extension Office at 1740 SW Western Ave.
Ariel Whitely-Noll is the Horticultural Officer for Shawnee County Research and Extension. She can be contacted at [email protected]