Effective landscaping can beautify more than just the outdoor area. It creates outdoor living spaces and interacts with the sun and other elements to provide shade and wind protection where it is needed most. The plants themselves – ground covers, flowers, shrubs, trees – also represent an important eco-link, such as B. Food for pollinators and habitat for living things.
And yet, as we know, living things need water, some much more than others – including lawns, which are the focus of a national debate about water conservation. In May 2022, for example, the Spokane City Council did what communities in the South and Southwest had already done: It limited lawn watering from June through October, reserving the option to enact stricter restrictions in 2023.
“Not how [other areas] We don’t have a second place to fetch water here,” says Kris Moberg-Hendron, Spokane County master gardener. “We have one: the aquifer.”
In 2005, Moberg-Hendron replaced their lawn with native and drought-tolerant plants that survive—even thrive—with little to no water other than rain. The principles known as xeriscaping can be applied to any part of the home’s exterior (even gardens).
At Washington State University’s Spokane County Extension facility, a xeriscaped strip of land along the North Havana Street entrance helps visitors imagine what their property might look like. The WaterWise Demonstration and Research Garden, as it is called, is approximately 30 feet by 130 feet and consists of ornamental grasses, perennials and annuals, embedded in various colors and types of mulch.
Along the fence line, tufts of Karl Foerster grass that can reach 6 feet in height provide year-round visual privacy and attractive feathery stems. Flowering plants such as bee balm, California fuschia, goldenrod and iris provide color and food for pollinators from March to October, while sage, thyme and chives can be used for human nutrition.
All of the plants are embedded in mulch, from crushed stone to bark chips, which is visually appealing and water-friendly, says Moberg-Hendron.
“It keeps the sun off the ground so it doesn’t get too hot, it keeps the wind from pulling water out of the ground, it keeps the ground in place,” says Moberg-Hendron. “This is isolation.”
The WaterWise Garden is a collaborative project that provides research opportunities for master gardeners and a demonstration space for SpokaneScape. SpokaneScape, an innovative arm of the city’s Department of Public Works and Utilities, offers financial incentives to urban water users who replace (or significantly reduce) lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping.
SpokaneScape’s website features comprehensive lists of native and drought tolerant plants, tips for understanding soil, planting guides, design templates for creating your new xeriscaped space, and certified professionals.
However, you don’t have to live within the city limits to take advantage of the available resources, which are also available at the Spokane County Extension office, including the WaterWise Garden that anyone is free to visit.
The garden has already proven to be a valuable example of xeriscaping principles, says Moberg-Hendron.
During the first creation in the summer of 2022, garden designers used drip irrigation to get young plants going for the first few years, but someone accidentally turned it off during the hottest part of summer. “And it still looked beautiful,” she says.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT WATERWAYS?
Join a free workshop at the Shadle Park Library every Wednesday, March 8 through June 10, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. to learn about topics such as water butt construction, landscaping, drip irrigation and more.
How much will xeriscaping cost you? It depends on the size of the job, your job and your schedule. Renting lawn removal equipment, for example, typically starts at $100 a day, while leaf mulching — laying cardboard or tarps over grass you want to kill — is free but can take several weeks to months.
Bark mulch costs $5-8 a bag for small areas, a few hundred plus delivery for several feet at a time, and almost free if you sign up for a service like chipdrop.com that allows local arborists to drop their ground up tree clippings to leave on your property.
You can spend big on irrigation systems, or you can do it yourself and buy a $40 drip hose kit with 100 feet of hose at your local hardware store.
Your next expense is plants, which you can start from seed or buy from a nursery, knowing you’ll pay more for larger ones. Also check out places like the Spokane Conservation District and Spokane Community College Greenhouses that sell quality plants at below retail prices, or search online for people with plant gifts.
And if all of this sounds like a lot of work just to save a little on your irrigation bill, you might want to first call the WSU Extensions office to see how they can help you do more with less. ♦