With the dry weather this year, it’s hard to be optimistic about gardening. Now, more than ever, the need to conserve water seems to be very important. I’ve discussed many ways to do so in past columns, but, for those of you who might be new to the area or if you are looking for some ideas, I think it’s worth repeating some water-saving gardening techniques.
One of the easiest ways to conserve water is to cover the soil around flowers, shrubs and trees with a couple of inches of mulch. Mulching helps prevent the loss of water due to evaporation, especially on sunny or windy days. Organic mulches such as bark, straw, grass clippings, compost or even shredded newspapers will work.
Be sure to water the mulch itself after applying it around the plants so it can settle in. Otherwise, it might blow away in a strong wind. For this reason, I don’t use fine-grade bark mulch as it is too light and, even with wetting it down, it will blow away. Another side benefit of mulch is that it keeps the soil cooler in hot weather, thus preventing the death of roots due to the soil getting too warm.
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are two methods of supplying plantings with minimum amounts of water. They do this by directly applying the water at the soil level where it is needed. Be aware that both have their limitations, especially where longevity of the systems is concerned. The pores in soaker hoses clog after a few years and the hoses will need to be replaced. Drip irrigation needs regular maintenance throughout the year. It can freeze in winter if not drained and may not be watering the plants at all if the emitters get clogged or are accidentally moved away from the plant.
Even though we don’t have mandatory water restrictions, it doesn’t hurt to follow Albuquerque’s example of watering between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. Don’t water during the heat of the day, as most of the water is lost to evaporation. This is especially true of sprinklers.
Our area is normally dry, so it is always a blessing when we get rain. Sometimes it seems to me that it’s never going to rain again, and then, one day, the raindrops start to hit the roof with a rat-a-tat-tat and all is right in the world.
Plant of the month: With the dry weather, I think a plant that needs very little water is to be recommended this month. Also, since it may be a scarce year for flowers for the hummingbirds, why not plant something for them as well. Salvia greggii, known as autumn sage or cherry sage, has bright red flowers that hummingbirds love. These small shrubs grow about three feet high and wide, fitting almost any garden space. Autumn sage uses very little water, is tolerant of our soils and sun and is available at almost every nursery in the area.
(Editor’s note: Ted Hodoba, who lives in Casa Colorada, is the author of a regional best-seller on desert gardening.)