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Low-water gardening doesn’t mean cactus
After looking at the monthly summer water bill, residents might be tempted to dig up their lawn and garden and replace it with rock or gravel.
However, says Julie Pisani, the special projects assistant with the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Team Water Smart, there are many less drastic options available for gardeners who want to use less water.
The concept she’s pushing is called xeriscaping - a style of gardening designed to save as much as 70 per cent of the water used on landscaped areas.
That’s important, she said, because outdoor water use in the summer months skyrockets to more than double what is used in the winter — with most of that increase going onto the garden and a large portion of that total evaporating or running off into the storm drain.
Xeriscape gardening, she said, starts with the soil and continues on from there.
“The main thing is focusing on the soil, so it can retain the water for the plants to use when needed,” she said. “It requires lots and lots of mulch and lots of water at first so you get stronger and deeper roots. Once the plants are established you can wean them off the water because they have the root structure.”
Another key, she said, is to choose the right plants.
“Choose plants that do well in our climate,” Pisani said. “Native plants are well-suited, but they don’t have to be native — and not all native plants are suited.”
She suggests succulents such as sedum, or herbs such as lavender or thyme.
“It’s all about having the right plant in the right spot,” she said. “In a really sunny spot you want a plant that tolerates that, or a plant that grows up to make a canopy to shade the other plants. Look at the site conditions and at what conditions will allow the plants to thrive.”
Once the plants are chosen, she suggests considering a drip irrigation system, which delivers a precise amount of water to the exact spot where it is needed, rather than a sprinkler-style system that wastes much of what it distributes.
“Drip irrigation applies the water right to the plant,” she said. “Using it can save you 30 per cent on water.”
Although she conceded that lawns are a major consumer of water, Pisani doesn’t necessarily think it all has to be torn out.
“Everything depends on the type of lawn you have,” she said. “You can get more drought-tolerant grass seed that can do well in drier conditions. They still require water, but about half.”
In order to promote the idea of xeriscape gardening, the RDN established one on Yambury Road in Qualicum Beach.
“It’s a property for a groundwater well with a pump station on it,” Pisani said. “Surrounding that is the garden. It was done to give people options for low water-use plants to use in their gardens.”