Greens to save you green: Don't drain cash on water-hungry plants
If you want a beautiful garden but don’t want to spend too much time – or money – watering your flowers, choose plants that practically thrive on neglect. Many homeowners are letting the concept of Xeriscaping take root in their own yards. Xeriscaping, derived from the Greek word "xeros'' or dry, is a landscaping technique that conserves water.
"People want low-maintenance plants that don’t need a lot of water,'' said Claudia Lambert, garden store manager at A.J. Tomasi in Pembroke, Mass. "These days people are busy, they work, and they know they won’t be home to give their plants much tender loving care.''
George Stanchfield, landscape designer for Manhasset Gardens in Kingston, Mass., has all kinds of plants in his own garden that do well when virtually ignored.
"I come out to my garden and I think, ‘My God, I can’t believe this plant survived after the abuse I gave it,’'' he said.
He believes many gardeners feel gung-ho in the beginning of planting season, but poop out as the summer wears on – and they often wish they had gone for plants that didn’t need regular watering. "People feel done after the Fourth of July,'' he said. "They don’t want to do any more work.''
It’s best to group these happy-to-be-dry plants in the same area. Look for plants that bloom at different times between spring and fall.
All plants need water when they are first planted to help get established, even drought-tolerant ones.
Lambert recommends soaking the soil every day for the first two weeks, and then giving the plants about an inch of water once a week during their first growing season.
The following year and every year thereafter, the perennials will generally do fine on their own without any need to supplement the water they get from rain. Once the roots of these plants leave the soil ball and seep into the earth, their strong roots tend to draw much of what they need from the soil. If there is a severe drought of about six weeks or so, the plants might start looking "kind of scrappy'' without a little supplemental water, Lambert said, but generally the plants thrive on nature alone.
Stanchfield said, "You want to make sure that they’re happy for the first year.'' Then you can make them suffer.''
WHAT TO PLANT
Stanchfield and Lambert recommend the following plants that require minimal water:
Salvia: These plants, which come in hundreds of varieties, enjoy dry, gritty soil. These plants come in hundreds of varieties that bloom at different times of the year, so you could plant salvia plants that will take turns blooming from spring to fall.
Sedums: These fleshy succulents store the water they need in their leaves. They will bloom in the harshest of conditions.
Scotch broom: This shrub, which blooms in late spring or early summer, grows well in coastal areas with sandy soil.
Rosa rugosa: These beach roses can take a pounding from harsh winters and still bloom in white, pink and lavender all summer long until the first frost.
Daylily: There are thousands of varieties of daylilies that bloom into trumpet-like flowers in different periods throughout the summer.
Alliums: These ornamental onions flower in purples, light lavenders and whites.
Russian sage: These plants, which grow up to 5 feet tall, have long branching sprays of tiny blue flowers.
Gaura: This plant starts blooming in June and keeps flowering through the end of October.
Herbs: Most herbs don’t like to have “wet feet,” Stanchfield said, and often produce better flavor if they are made to “stress out” a little. Lamb’s ear, for example, is an herb that was once used medicinally. It has soft, fuzzy leaves and a pink flower stalk. The small hairs on the leaves, which make them appear silver, protect the plant from drought conditions.
Ornamental grasses: Shorter grasses like pennisetums can be combined with taller grasses in the miscanthus variety to fill out a garden area.
Dina Gerdeman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.