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Sustainability through xeriscaping

Whether it’s called xeriscaping, water-smart gardening or environmentally friendly planting, this water-efficient concept can be built into your existing gardening plans, either all at once or on a year-by-year basis. Xeriscaping involves selection of annual and perennial plants, shrubs, trees and vines that perform well in our region and require minimal supplemental irrigation.

Landscapes of foundation plantings, trees dotted throughout the lawn, and expanses of green, lush turf originated in the East, where rainfall averages 30 inches or more and is distributed fairly regularly over the growing season. This isn’t always compatible with conditions in the Red River basin. Landscapes developed with sustainable practices improve the environment by conserving resources and reducing chemical applications. They also reduce labour inputs, making them less expensive to implement and maintain.

The key to creating a sustainable landscape is the design process. Plant selection, implementation and maintenance build on the design. The phrase, “right plant, right place,” can help you consider each plant and area’s needs for nutrients, watering and maintenance.

Maintenance is another consideration. The plants selected will determine frequency and rate of watering. Overwatering is detrimental to plants’ health and invites diseases such as root rot and verticillium. A well-maintained drip irrigation system provides the most efficient delivery.

Mulch provides moisture conservation, weed control and winter protection. There are many types, both organic and synthetic. Organic mulches are often preferred, although they must be added to from time to time. Generally, mulches work best on vegetable, flower and shrub plantings and some trees, but could be detrimental to native plantings.

Zonal planting concepts can also be adopted in your move to a sustainable landscape. With this concept, plants requiring the most water are planted close to the house, often given the term “oasis zone.” The moderate or regular watering zone would contain plants that, after establishment, require only occasional watering during an extended droughty period. The “no water zone” could have native or adapted plant species acclimated to the usual precipitation patterns of your particular region. Here, plants would need water the first year to become established and then be allowed to go it entirely on their own. Careful planning is needed, as the three zones require three different classes of plants. Local communities may have demonstration sites and information. In Winnipeg, The Living Prairie Museum (http://www.winni peg.ca/publicworks/naturalist/livingprairie/), a tall grass prairie preserve, is home to over 160 species of prairie plants. It features workshops and other educational programs and offers books and wildflower seeds in its bookstore.

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