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Waterwise Garden Tips

Waterwise Garden Tips

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This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

Water Conservation Tip of the Week

As we continue to suffer from one of the worse droughts in recorded history in Utah, looking for reasonable alternatives to the drought is not always simple. Some advocate that no outside watering or no plants that need irrigation are acceptable, but they overlook the benefits in terms of climate modification, our enjoyment of gardens and the many other benefits they supply.

Continuing with information on drought tolerant gardens, plan to visit the rooftop garden on the Conference center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in downtown Salt Lake City.

These gardens are not designed to look or grow like the more traditional flowerbeds on Temple Square but are a great prairie garden. The gardens, by design have no annual plants but the plants are herbaceous perennials and woody plants. This radical departure from other traditional Temple Square plantings is all part conceptual design envisioned for the building.

The designs of the conference center gardens will eventually use one-half the water of a typical Utah landscape. The main savings are from using waterwise plants including many different natives and other adapted plants.

The prairie garden is a vibrant and exciting planting that is maturing into a delightful display of color while staying with the theme of the gardens. It is showing exciting color and form thorough a variety of plants.

The challenge of a prarie garden is selecting plants that thrive but do not take over. Natural prairies include many plants but typically, most of the area ends up being covered about ten different plants. Since this is not a natural prairie, the plant list was, by design, very extensive. It includes 21 types of grass and some 350 varieties of flowers.

The grasses are the mainstay of any prairie garden and occupy about three fourths of the garden. The original design included twenty-one different varieties. Some are thriving and some are too vigorous for the plantings.

Sod-forming grasses, including Canada bluegrass are not good choices for a meadow because they are too aggressive. The rhizomes or underground stems are desirable in a monoculture setting like a lawn but are less desirable when the same trait makes the grass so aggressive that it crowds out other plants. This same trait is visible in your own garden when the lawn spreads into the flowerbeds and becomes a horrible weed.

The best meadow grasses are bunch type grasses. The best waterwise possibilities include the wheat grasses, Great Basin wild rye, grama grass and other types that do not spread by rhizomes or stolons.

While the grasses provide the canvas or the backdrop, the flowers provide the color. Realizing by the time you visit the gardens, the palate will change, I will share my favorites from a recent visit.

The true geranium or cranesbills is an excellent plant for waterwise gardens. Cranesbill is a Utah native and newer nursery selections are available. While the most predominant color is blue, lavender, pink and white colors also round out the color spectrum.

Columbines added the colors of their tall flower spikes to the rooftop gardens. Again, the native columbines are showy, but hybrids and varieties from other areas add to the show. They are at home in many areas but they thrive best with protection from scorching heat.

Verbascum is another flower that thrives in the meadow. Shades of soft pink, coral and light tan make these tall, upright flowers very showy as well as waterwise.

Penstemons are well known to native plant enthusiast and to waterwise designers. Many types of penstemons are native to are area and many others are well adapted to a low water use garden. The beautiful blue Wasatch and Rocky Mountain penstemon add to any garden but they thrive with less water. Add the smaller Pineleaf penstemon for different textures and colors.

Coreopsis is another showy, low water use plant. They are members of the sunflower family and have a long and showy bloom season with regular deadheading. Several different types will thrive in your garden.

One of the showiest plants is the Eremurus also known as desert candle or foxtail lily. The tall spikes are very showy and grow 4-9 feet tall. The flowers are white, orange pink yellow or buff and they are cold hardy throughout Utah. They must have well drained soil or the roots will rot and the plants will die.

Plan to visit these gardens, observe their designs and plant materials and see if this waterwise design can be adapted to the areas in your garden where you are trying to save water.

Complimentary tours of the Conference Center Rooftop Garden are Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. An evening tour is at 7 p.m on Tuesday evenings. Meet at door 15 of the Conference Center. The Garden Guides also have a list of many of the garden plants and their bloom times for you when you tour the gardens.

Garden tours of the Church office building Gardens are given daily at 10 a.m., and 2 p.m. and at 7 p.m. on Monday evenings. Meet in the lobby of the Church Office building on the south side. I also give the tours on Sunday morning at 10:15 am. Meet at the East Gate of Temple Square for those tours. For special tours of any of the gardens, call 240-5916. All tours are free of charge.

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