Season 2 • Episode 14 - July 25, 2023

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The last few summers have been tough on the garden. We had an extended period of warm dry weather that left many plants in the garden dying of thirst. A lot of people are now looking at drought-tolerant plants as part of their regular gardens. Well, we found a place where you can actually see a large variety of drought-tolerant plants in a garden and check out how they perform. We stopped by Blooming Junction (503-681-4646) at 35105 NW Zion Church Road, near Cornelius and chatted with Ron the manager about xeriscaping and to see a selection of plants that do well with little or no water.

We first talked about xeriscaping and what that means. The basic definition of xeriscaping is landscaping or gardening in a style that requires little or no watering or irrigation. This refers to the types of plants you use and how you landscape your garden. So it isn’t just about drought-tolerant plants, it could also include the use of lawn, mulches and irrigation types. The first thing to consider is to have a plan and to know your garden. Where is the most light or shade and at what times of the day will you get sun exposure? Does the area you are considering have access to water or a sprinkler system? How much time do you have to take care of your garden? All these things need to be considered before you head to your local garden center. After you have that basic information in hand, Ron had a group of gardening principles to consider when you are designing a xeriscape garden.

First, look for plants that like the same growing conditions. Picking plants that have the same water requirements, the same lighting needs and the same fertilization requirements will go a long way to making sure that they survive and thrive. It would be a good idea to walk around your garden center with a cart that represents the area you are planting. Considering the requirements of the area in your garden, start assembling the selection of plants on that cart. Some gardeners adopt the same rules for building a garden bed as they would for designing a container garden. The idea of ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ works well for your garden beds too. The thrillers are the large plant specimens. These could go at the back of your garden beds. The fillers are the medium sized plants that go in front of those and the spillers are the lower ground cover types of plants to soften the leading edge of your garden. This plant selection process can be helped by the garden center staff if you feel like you need help.

 Second, you should consider your soil conditions. Most drought-tolerant plants like nutritious and well-draining soil. That could mean that you need to add compost or other nutrients to your soil. It is a good idea to get a soil test (check with your local university extension office for testing in your area) before you spend any money on amendments. We have a lot of clay soils in our area. They can be nutritious but need help with other materials to make them a little more porous and less like concrete. Remember the plants that you will be planting and adjust the amendments to their requirements.

Third, consider your usage of turf and lawns. If you are going for less water usage, remember that lawns are one of the biggest water users in your garden. Some people love that green lawn look, but it takes a lot of water to get and keep those grass varieties happy and healthy. Consider a small lawn or use an alternative like sedums and wildflower/clover mixes that use less water. You can also do other things like raising the blade on your mower and cutting less often to help save water.

Fourth, irrigation. Since you have placed plants with similar needs together, you can now adjust the amount of water that goes in those areas. Remember that you will need to use a little more water in the first year of planting to help those young plants get established, but once their roots are firmly in the ground, you can start reducing watering in the second year. Some people like to hand-water, but you should also think about adding a watering system to your garden plans. A system on a timer is great and can help you control the amount of water used in your garden. Once you have the system in place, including drip irrigation, then keep checking the system to make sure it is doing a good job. You want to be sure the heads are not blocked and that the water is going where you want and not watering the pavement. A system will also allow you to deep water, which is better for your plants. A deep watering twice a week will get the plant to send more roots deeper into the soil for that water. If you do shorter watering, more frequently, then the roots will stay neer the surface of the soil and the plant will be more susceptible to drought stress.

The next tip was about the use of mulch. This mulch can take many forms; bark, compost, top soil or even -- in the case of some gardens -- crushed concrete or gravel. Mulch helps retain moisture, suppress weeds and maintain an even temperature at the root zone. It can also look nice too.

Finally, maintain your garden once you have planted it. This could mean that you need to move plants if they don’t perform well, changing watering patterns or pruning plants to make room for others and to help shape their growth, and keeping ahead of the weeds.

Now, for some, the thought of a drought-tolerant garden brings images of brown and bare plants and barren landscapes. However that is not true. Next we talked about a bunch of plants that Ron had assembled that were looking great in the mid-summer heat and would do well in our climate and conditions. Rudbeckia was our first plant. This is a tried-and-true plant for the drought-tolerant garden. This plant, Goldstar, was a great representative of the group. It sends up tons of ‘sunflower-like’ blooms and just keeps blooming and blooming. It also has some varieties that have different colors and bloom styles, like a second one we saw called ‘Lion Cub’ with mum-type flowers. Next we looked at a yarrow. These are pretty recognizable with flower clusters that look like mini tree tops. The color variety has increased in recent years too. Originally just covered in yellow blooms, the newer colors include pinks, oranges, reds and purples. The one we featured was Saucy Seduction which has deep magenta and pink colors in the blooms. They love full sun and are a favorite of butterflies and bees. Gaura (wind flower) ‘Whirling Butterflies’ was next. The blooms on this one look like little fishing poles waving in the wind with delicate white blooms at the ends of the poles. Though this one is quite tall, there are other varieties that are shorter and more compact. Other varieties also come in different bloom and foliage colors. A favorite of Ron’s was next with a rockrose, also known as Cistus, called ‘Orchid Rockrose’. The one we featured had pink and burgundy blooms. They are very hardy and are known to be deer-resistant, and they get big, 6 by 6 feet. If you want something a little bigger, we had an Arbutus (Strawberry Tree). The Arbutus is called a strawberry tree due to the small round red fruit that appears later in the season. They are edible, though most people don’t know that. It is in the Manzanita family, which makes it very easy to grow in our area. We then moved to some less hardy plants for this area. The first was a Lantana. The Lantanas are great in your summer beds, though you can have them winter-over if you keep them in a container and move them inside for the winter. They have very cool blooms with clusters of tiny flowers that start out bright peach and then turn a deep pink. We have found them to be a little bit of a prima donna in the garden; they wilt if they get even a tiny bit dry, but then perk back up with a cool drink. Another annual, drought-tolerant, plant is the Celosia (Cock’s Comb) ‘Orange Fire’. The blooms on these are a tall cone of color, reddish/orange on this plant, that look like tongues of flames. Then we focused on a group of sedums and succulents. This family of plants are great for the dry summer garden. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but all of them do well with little or no water once established. There are even some that are small enough to become lawn replacements if you want to do that.

After focusing on colorful blooms, we then moved over to Judy’s side of the table with silver and white foliage plants. The first one was a cushion bush, which resembled a silver tumbleweed with its fine foliage and tiny flowers. The tiny pom-pon flowers bloom a bright yellow, which will really make this pop in the garden. Another silver foliage plant was the Senecio with leaves that are a little waxy. The plant will really glow in the garden when it gets taller, though it looks great at any size. A small silver foliage plant was the silver lotus. It has tiny soft leaves that beg to be touched. It does get a tiny beak-type flower which gives it another common name of ‘Hairy Canary’. A unique plant was next, a Parahebe perfoliate. This plant looks like a small eucalyptus, but it isn’t even in the same family. In fact, it isn’t even in the Hebe family. This one will reward you with tall purple flower spikes. The next plant was a Ceanothus ‘Dark star’. This plant has tiny waxy leaves and gets really tall (so give it room) and is covered with clusters of tiny purple flowers that bees go crazy for. It is a deer-proof plant, as well. Lavenders were next on the list and are a favorite of many gardeners already. ‘Ana Luisa’ was the one we were looking at and it was in full bloom with tall flower spikes of purple flowers. This one had silver foliage and was smelling great. Remember to not water this one too much (it is a drought-tolerant plant) and to prune it down after it blooms to help it keep its shape. Another plant with tall purple flowers is Russian Sage ‘Little Spire’. It is called a sage, but it isn’t a sage. It will get really tall, but the silver foliage and lavender colored blooms make it a showcase plant in your garden. The star of the summer garden are the Echinaceas. These plants now come in lots of different flower colors. We had a bright yellow and a smoky/burnt red to represent this great family of plants. These are pollinator-friendly plants and are very hardy in our area. Just about every garden needs grasses too. We had a couple to look at that were looking good and even with the light breeze we were having, were waving in the wind. Blue Stem and Switch Grass are well-behaved. A lot of grasses will spread and take over an area, but these hold their ground and don’t wander too much. The motion and texture are a great addition to the garden. We then ended on a tall tree for the garden, the Serviceberry. There are shorter varieties that can become shrubs, but this one was a larger tree form. It will have tiny white flowers followed by red berries for the fall. These were all great plants for the dry summer garden, but we also wanted to see how they perform in the real world. Lucky for us they have a drought-tolerant display garden in the front of the store.

After the break we moved to the front display garden full of water-wise plants. This garden was planted about eight years ago. We had featured it on the Garden Time show right after it was planted and it has really filled in. In the beginning they started with creating a bed with a recycled concrete mulch base. This allows for water to drain quickly through the roots and provide weed suppression at the surface. Then they grouped the plants together based on their water needs. Because of this they only had to water a little bit to help the plants get started and then they watered only about four more times during the season during the extreme heat. Now they water only occasionally, once or twice a summer, if temps get really hot.

Most of the original plants made it and some did not. The first plant we looked at was the cardoon. This plant was huge and really loves the dry, full sun. It resembles the artichoke, but it is just a statement plant from the thistle family. Be careful, these can reseed so keep an eye out for baby plants popping up in your garden. Another huge plant in the garden is the olive. There was a large one in the garden, but because there is not another pollinator in the garden, this one doesn’t get fruit. It’s a nice plant that gives your garden a Mediterranean look. Next to the olive tree was an agave. It was one of the original plants and it has become huge. The large fleshy spiked leaves look stunning in the garden. There were also assorted groundcovers including the Hairy Canary!

We then moved to the other side of the garden. It was full of healthy plants loaded with blooms. The Russian Sage was in full bloom as was the yarrow and a large grouping of Shasta Daisy. They also had Euphorbia and a huge example of the Arbutus with its great red bark and deep green foliage. The garden was a perfect example of how you can build a garden like this in your yard. If you want to see how different drought-tolerant plants look in the garden, you should stop by. Pretty much everything they sell is a ‘Blooming Advantage’ plant. They are grown right here in Oregon and every one of them performs well in the Northwest garden.

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