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QUICK TIPS Design Ideas for Drought-Tolerant Landscape  July 10, 2006

Joel M. Lerner, president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md., recently wrote a piece for The Washington Post where he outlined ideas for xeriscaping to encourage conservation. Here is what he had to say:

``Xeriscape'' is derived from root words ``xeric,'' meaning dry, and ``scape,'' denoting a view, as in landscape. So, literally translated, it is landscape design for dry conditions. Through common use, the term has become known as the practice of installing drought-resistant plants, delivering water to them efficiently and keeping their root balls moist as long as possible. Therefore, another way to refer to xeriscaping is water-efficient landscape design.

These seven general guidelines form a basis for xeriscape design principles:

Design shade into the landscape. Just as we perspire and lose moisture through our pores, plants transpire, losing moisture through their leaves. A mature oak tree can dissipate as much heat as four home central air conditioners running 24 hours a day, according to estimates. This evaporative water loss from leaves has a cooling effect on the environment and reduces water loss.

Appropriate plant selection is essential. Large mulched areas don't effectively conserve water unless trees, shrubs, perennials or annuals cover 75 to 80 percent of the soil.

Here is a short list of drought-tolerant plants:

Perennials: artemesia, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, goldenrod, liatris, liriope, purple coneflower, sedum, thyme.

Shrubs: juniper, honeysuckle, lilac, mahonia, deutzia, spiraea, witch hazel, yucca.

Trees: ash, trident maple, ginkgo, golden rain, lacebark elm, maackia, sycamore.

Practical turf areas conserve topsoil and slow runoff. Many xeriscape designs greatly reduce the amount of lawn to decrease water consumption. Turf grass can survive three weeks to a month without rain. After that, you should soak it. When mowing, adjust lawn mower to a higher setting. Longer grass shades root systems and holds soil moisture better than a closely clipped lawn. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn. This helps hold moisture. There are ground covers for full sun that might survive drought better than lawns, such as junipers and ground-cover roses.

Efficient irrigation will conserve a lot of water. Minimize evaporation by watering during the early morning or about two hours before sunset, when temperatures are cooler and winds lighter. Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust so only your lawn is watered and not the house, sidewalk or street. Direct downspouts and other runoff toward shrubs and trees, or collect and use for your garden. Water only as rapidly as the soil can absorb the water.

A soaker, drip or bubbler system will release water much more slowly and efficiently than shooting it into the air. Avoid using a sprinkler that throws a fine mist. You want droplets to drench the soil. Water small patches by hand to avoid waste.

Irrigate according to plant needs rather than by fixed schedule. Group plants with similar water requirements in beds together. This allows you to ``zone'' your watering so plants are watered only as necessary. For example, an established planting of black-eyed Susans, liatris and purple coneflowers in a common bed might not require watering all summer long, yet moisture-loving ferns, astilbes and impatiens that prefer cool, protected sites could wilt and dry within days without water.

Soil analysis will offer some indication of how well your soil will hold moisture. Shallow soil with a hardpan or rock base will not hold moisture well. Soil texture has a lot to do with how fast the water percolates through it, or if it will percolate at all. Sandy soils percolate well but do not have the same water-holding capability as clay or silt. These soils benefit from having organic material added when cultivating them.

Organic mulches, such as compost or bark mulch, greatly slow evaporation. Compost incorporated into the soil will hold moisture.

Maintain the garden appropriately. Next time you add or replace a flower or shrub, choose a low-water-use plant. Keep ahead of weeds -- they use moisture.

Despite claims that a plant is drought-resistant, it still must be watered during the first year or two, while establishing roots in the garden

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