This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

October 9, 2015

How to have a lush tropical landscape with low water use

I was in California a few weeks ago, and I noticed that because of the drought, some of the houses were proudly displaying dead lawns, dead plants, and dead trees. I even heard an expression for it as "California Gold" - everything being brown and dead. And not only is it the ugliest thing I've ever seen, and a fire hazard, having dead plants around the house, it isn't even necessary. Here in the Phoenix area we've been using a technique called "Xeriscape". And that doesn't mean that everything is dead, it just means some very careful water management, and correct selection of plants. Here in my yard I've managed to create an illusion of a Tropical Paradise - but believe me, it's just an illusion, and it uses precious little water. Here are some of the tricks.

• A low-pressure watering system. This is the exact opposite of a wasteful watering system that sprays everything, watering the sidewalks, and running down the streets. This is a very precise targeting of water, like the photo above, and no water goes anywhere except at the plants' roots. And by the time someone has hauled out a heavy hose, spraying water all over the place, and making a mess everywhere, my plants have been watered.

• Artificial turf. I have no grass here. None. In the front yard I use 1/2" gravel, and in the backyard I use artificial turf.

• Low-water use plants. When I moved into my house, twenty years ago, I visited the local library, which has a Xeriscape garden. It's only about three blocks from my house, so I figured that what could grow there could grow here. So I followed their example. I read their pamphlets on Xeriscape. My favorite plants are cycads (at the top of this post). They look like ferns but use very little water.

So please don't proudly display dead plants around your house. Instead, remove your grass, take out the thirsty plants, and replace them with Xeriscape plants, using a low-pressure watering system. If you want to know if it works, take a look at this blog. If your California neighbors become confused because you aren't proudly displaying dead plants in your landscape, just tell them what you know - Xeriscape!
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