One might think designing your garden to be waterwise isn’t necessary since our last major drought in 100 years was in 2007. We even had watering restrictions, and Raleigh’s water rates went from a single-tier to a three-tier system. While we’ve had several droughts since then, we haven’t had any major restrictions since 2007. I don’t want to live those days again, for many reasons, but since I have a waterwise design, I don’t have to stress over droughts, not for my garden anyway.
As a sustainable gardener, gardening with waterwise practices is a no-brainer. For budget and future drought restrictions, we need to find ways to make our gardens less dependent on supplemental water. Waterwise gardening will save your garden and bank account during times of drought.
The East Coast is lucky in many ways. Our area’s average annual rainfall is 44 inches. When we experienced the worst drought, we received 37 inches. Think about that. If we were in Austin, Texas, that would be almost normal as their annual rain is 35.5 inches, with some to spare. What we must always remember is we don’t receive our 44 inches evenly spread throughout the months. And a reduction of just seven inches has the government ready to bring in the National Guard.
While my garden is mostly native, Bee Better Naturally isn’t specifically a native garden. There is a misconception that native plants can handle drought better than introduced plants. Case in point, during the 2007 drought, I lost all my native dogwoods, Cornus florida. It wasn’t necessarily drought that did them in; it was from anthracnose, a fungus that infects trees when resistance is down. Drought caused this resistance. They did come back, so the roots were viable, but it took a while. My Chinese dogwood, Cornus kousa, did not suffer, although if severe enough, more severe than we have already experienced, it could have.
Waterwise gardening is not new but gardeners seem to have drifted from understanding the benefits and techniques of waterwise design. This strategy is not limited to gardening in a drought but is a practical and effective way to garden anywhere, while at the same time promoting good environmental stewardship of our land and water.
The main way to achieve a waterwise design is to group plants with similar needs together. Remember, too, waterwise gardening isn’t limited to only drought-tolerant plants. It’s a planting scheme that uses all different kinds of needs, from agaves to tropicals, and places them into efficient beds based on their various watering needs. The beds in a waterwise garden are divided into three gardening zones: oasis, transitional, and xeric.
The oasis zone is the area closest to the water source. These sources can be drain spouts, rain barrels, or a faucet and hose. Also include the area around the front door as an oasis, where you can easily water your container plants with water collected indoors. Hydrangea, canna, and elephant’s ear come to mind. In the Bee Better Teaching Garden, the oasis zone has container plants near the spigot.
The transitional zone is the area away from the house, about midway from the home to the end of the property. Plantings here should be sustainable, requiring only occasional supplemental water. Typically, these areas are island beds, driveway beds, or raised beds. Coneflowers, solidago, and crinum come to mind.
The xeric zone is at the property’s perimeter. These plants should be tough and should not require supplemental water once plants are established. This area can be filled with dependable, drought-resistant plants. Lantana, salvia, and bee balm come to mind.
It’s not difficult to be waterwise. Get a rain gauge, and pay attention to the local rainfall. Only water when plants need watering. Even the thirstiest plants, once established, only need about an inch of water a week. However, container gardens may need daily watering in the heat of the summer. Remember to mulch—its moisture-trapping ability will be your best defense against drought.
Here is what you can do to conserve water.
1. Avoid watering in the heat of the day. Water in the morning when evaporation is at its lowest.
2. Water at the base of the plant, not with overhead sprinklers.
3. Time your plant’s watering needs. With the hose pointing to the root area, count or time the watering needs.
4. Don’t water on Tuesday, as an example, because you always do. Water when plants need watering. It may have rained the night before. Check your rain gauge.
5. Have an indicator plant in each of your gardening zones. For example, a hydrangea is a thirsty plant. If you have one in your Oasis Zone, and it doesn’t need to be watered, it’s a good chance none of the other plants need watering either.
6. Collect your rainwater. I harvest rain from my roof into a 250 gallon tote. This is used to feed the fountain to benefit the wildlife. So in times of drought, I have water for the birds, bees, and butterflies.
As more and more of us understand that sustainable gardening will help sustain our future, it is becoming popular. Waterwise design is the best place to start.