Create a Relaxing Garden Retreat with Water-Wise Plants
Being a water-savvy gardener doesn’t mean you have to give up on beauty and interest when it comes to garden planning and plant choice. Whether you’re looking to create a soothing getaway close to home or a sanctuary for the family to enjoy at the end of a long day, it’s a good idea to incorporate water-wise plants that also happen to look great, conserve water and require less maintenance.
Choosing the right plants
Because outdoor water consumption typically accounts for at least 50% of residential water use, it’s important to choose your plants carefully. By combining design with the right water-wise plants, you’ll get the most out of your garden landscape without using excessive amounts of water.
Water-smart gardening begins with designs and plants that are suited to local conditions. Many native California plants are naturally water-wise and are ideal for our mild winters and warm, dry summers. With extensive root systems that gather water more effectively, native plants can be tolerant to cyclical extremes in times of drought and therefore tend to adapt to local conditions more easily.
And if you think you can’t plan a California water-savvy garden retreat that provides visual interest year-round, think again. There are many colorful, fragrant and attractive plants that require minimal watering — many of these even have long-blooming flowers or vibrant foliage.
The good news is that whether you are a do-it-yourself gardener or getting help from a garden professional, there are hundreds of plants to choose from that not only tolerate drought, but are also attractive and help you create a garden that’s unique to your location, needs and style.
The 5 things to consider when choosing plants
In order to create a garden that is both stunning and water-efficient, you’ll need to do some additional research so that you choose plants tailored to your local site conditions. First, think about what kind of garden you have in mind and perhaps even fill out a questionnaire from San Jose Water (SJW) that asks about your preferences and needs in order to assist you with the design and planning of your garden. You may even want to print it out and use it as a reminder as you consider five important questions:
1. What is my climate and microclimate?A key to successful water-wise gardening is to choose plants recommended for your climate. Select plants that perform well in regional conditions, as well as in the “microclimate” of your yard (such as sun or wind exposure, orientation of your house or large, shady trees). In California, there are many native shrubs, perennials, trees and grasses suited to diverse environments and microclimates — but that doesn’t always mean a plant will thrive in your garden. For example, coastal plants may not grow well in valleys and alpine plants do not thrive in the desert. Get to know your region’s climate.
2. What are my plants’ water needs? Generally, you will be most successful by choosing regional, low-water to moderate-water-use plants. Group plants in your landscape design according to how much water they need to create “hydrozones,” where you position plants with similar water, soil and sun needs together.
To maximize a healthy, sustainable landscape, divide your overall garden into four hydrozones based on the amount of water usage (routine irrigation, reduced irrigation, limited irrigation and no irrigation). Lastly, consider using perennial plants versus annuals, because they tend to require less maintenance and water once established.
3. What kind of soil do I have? Healthy soils are the foundation for a water-smart landscape. Some plants thrive in well-drained sandy soils, while others prefer more organic or clay-like soil. Again, when planning your garden, try to group plants by need as much as possible. If you’re using patios, walkways or other materials to create visual interest or a space for relaxation, consider using porous materials so that the rain soaks into the surrounding ground rather than running off and being wasted.
And if you’re not sure what kind of soil you have, it might be a good idea to have your soil tested. A good place to start is at your local garden center or a university or county cooperative extension. Inexpensive home soil testing kits are also available at many big-box retailers, or can be ordered online.
4. How much space will I need? New gardens often have new plants that haven’t yet reached full growth and maturity. Make sure you take into account that fully grown plants may require more room. Design your garden with adequate space to allow plants to reach full maturity without having to compete for sun or water later on.
5. How will I water the new plants? Even drought-tolerant plants require more water for the first year or two until new roots have been established. Plan on watering your garden either manually or with an automatic irrigation system. Manual watering using a wand with a shutoff valve in the handle tends to be the most water-efficient method. Of all the automatic irrigation choices, drip-type irrigation systems are considered the most efficient, since they deliver water directly to the plants’ roots. Plants should only be watered as needed. Reference a watering guide and be sure to water on a regular schedule (depending on your garden’s hydrozone), adjusting for seasonal or local climate changes.
Search for water-wise plants
Once you’ve considered your site condition factors, it’s time for the fun part of the planning process: choosing your plants! Depending on the style or visual aesthetic you have in mind for your garden, you’ll have many beautiful, water-wise choices. To help you narrow down your selection, start with a Guided Plant Search, Garden Tour or Garden Gallery. Consider foliage, plant shape, flower color and height. You may even want to draw desirable birds or other natural life to help restore the ecosystem.
It’s a good idea to gather and group photos of plants to see how they look together. Try mapping them out in a plan view of your garden. To see plants in person, visit a local nursery or co-op. They can provide additional information and help choose the right water-wise plants and combinations for your location.
Creating a relaxing garden retreat doesn’t mean using a lot of water or spending a lot of money. With proper planning and guidance, it’s easy to choose water-wise plants that help conserve water without sacrificing beauty. With less maintenance and fewer inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, you’ll be able to enjoy a private and stress-free space that’s uniquely yours and personal.