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Waterwise Gardening.

Waterwise Gardening The urge to plant--or replant--the garden rises this month along with rising hopes for winter rains. But if water shortages of recent times have made you cautious about undertaking landscape improvements, take heart. A new Sunset book, Waterwise Gardening (Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, Calif., 1989; $6.95), can help you design an attractive garden that uses less water.

Although intended for use across the country, Waterwise Gardening is especially useful in the West--as two charts in the book's introduction make abundantly clear. East of the hundredth meridian, drought is an unusual condition. West of that line, "drought" isn't even the proper term to use.

By definition, a drought is a period that ends. But the Western states are naturally arid; May-through-November rainfall is almost always inadequate for local needs or wants. As a result, water must be stored and transported--in some cases great distances. And a steadily growing population has placed a strain on the collection and delivery systems.

Under these conditions, water needs should be the first--not the last--consideration in planning a garden. Careful attention to design can save water, time, and maintenance. Along with other detailed information in the book, the following basic guidelines can help you better plan your garden or garden remodel.

Get it right the first time--or remodel

Divide your landscape into water-use zones, with plants grouped according to their water needs. Put lushest plants--which need the most water--near the house, where they contribute most immediately to comfort and appearance. Cluster moderately and least thirsty plants in the garden's more remote areas.

Eliminate or limit water-guzzling turf areas. If you must have a lawn for a play or lounging surface, use less-thirsty grasses, such as tall fescue. In place of lawns, many Westerners today are using ground covers that can thrive on infrequent irrigation.

Also, amend your soil: add organic material to increase the water-holding capacity of sandy soils and improve aeration and water penetration in clay. Install an intelligent irrigation system that will deliver adequate water to each water-use zone without waste. Check an existing system before planting (or remodeling).

Keep to a maintenance schedule

Remember that organic soil amendments and mulches break down and disappear; add to them as necessary. Weeds steal water; keep them down by hand pulling, hoeing, or--if necessary, and with great caution--applying herbicides. Inspect irrigation systems periodically to make sure that they are delivering water properly.

Choose the right plants

With drawings and brief descriptions of each, Waterwise Gardening lists more than 350 permanent plants--trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials--that can thrive on less water than others. To guide you through this plant encyclopedia, seven pages of lists give choices for a variety of situations: plants for flower color; for shaded gardens, hillsides, ground covers, screens, and backgrounds; and shade and patio trees.

Especially difficult to plant when water conservation is important are shade gardens (this is not a common worry with a new garden, which very likely has little shade to plant in). Many of the plants that first come to mind (azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, rhododendrons) need ample water. A complicating factor is root competition from the trees or large shrubs.

The list below includes ground covers, perennials, shrubs, and vines that do well in the reduced amount of light and cooler temperatures that characterize shade gardens; the pictures show four of the choices. It offers a good shopping guide for this month's planting.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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