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South Central Gardening: Sustainable Living

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Many people are concerned about water conservation as well as obtaining fresher, healthier food. Here are some tips from Lowe’s regional garden contributor.

Xeriscape Demonstration Garden

By Susan Albert

Gardening trends in the South Central region gravitate toward sustainable living. More and more city dwellers have embraced the concept of growing some of their own food such as vegetables and small fruits. Also high on the list is conserving water through drip irrigation, rain gardens, collecting roof runoff, and low-water-use plants.

Growing vegetables at home and in community gardens is increasing in popularity, according to Oklahoma and Texas extension reports. In addition to promoting self-reliance, growing your own produce is perceived as consuming higher-quality food, using little to no pesticides. Many who don’t grow food at home are visiting farmer’s markets to obtain the freshest fruits and vegetables.

Home vegetable garden

Those with little space for a garden mix the edibles right in among the ornamentals, whether it’s a blueberry shrub or a tomato plant. The practice of growing vegetables in large containers is gaining momentum in small-space gardens, and Texas extension even has a fact sheet that details recommended container sizes for certain vegetables. For example the extension suggests a 5-gallon pot for one tomato plant with varieties such as Patio, Pixie, Tiny Tim, Saladette, Small Fry, and Spring Giant.

Water conservation is a hot topic resulting from the drought conditions experienced the last three years. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of August 6 Oklahoma’s extreme western region plus the panhandle (about 38 percent of the state) were still in drought conditions, and about 88 percent of Texas still was experiencing some level of drought.

(Oddly enough, in northeastern Oklahoma, where I live, we no longer are in a drought and are experiencing daily temperatures about 10 degrees below normal. We’ve had continual rainfall, which is very unusual for August. Of course we’ve all learned to expect the unexpected where Oklahoma weather is concerned.)

Drip irrigation, widely touted as a way to save water runoff, is easy to assemble, using a kit or inexpensive components purchased at your Lowe’s garden center. The tubing takes the water right to the plants, eliminating excess water use.

Another idea is to capture rain runoff from the roof and hold it in a cistern till needed for vegetable or ornamental gardens. Likewise, creating a rain garden—a depression filled with native plants and grasses—can help keep water from running down the yard and into the street, where it contributes to flooding, erosion, and pollution of streams.

Principles of xeriscaping

Incorporating low-water-use plants in the landscape (xeriscaping) is another water conservation method that’s often in the news. In Edmond, just outside Oklahoma City, a Xeriscape Demonstration Garden illustrates the value of a well-designed yard using the principles of xeriscape gardening (pictured at top of article). Storyboards around the property explain how to incorporate water-wise tips such as efficient irrigation, plant design and placement, soil improvement, and mulching.

An Oklahoma Extension fact sheet about the xeriscape garden lists water-wise plants that include annuals such as cockscomb (Celosia), cosmos, firebush (Hamelia patens), lantana (Lantana camara), marigold (Tagetes), Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), and more.

Shrub rose

Suggested perennials include autumn sage (Salvia greggi), blanket flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), blue mist spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis), coneflower (Echinacea), daylily (Hemerocallis), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), santolina, and climbing roses (Rosa)

Ornamental grasses performing well in dry conditions include maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), Ravenna grass (Erianthus ravennae), and Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima). However, my experience with Mexican feather grass is that it reseeds everywhere.

Drought-tolerant trees and shrubs include bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), Caddo sugar maple (Acer saccharum ‘Caddo’), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), nandina (Nandina domestica), shrub roses, rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), crape myrtle, (Lagerstroemia indica), and smoketree (Cotinus coggygria).

Buffalo grass

For low-traffic lawn areas the extension suggests native grasses as an alternative to those needing regular irrigation. Buffalo grass, a native that requires little water, grows in a demonstration lawn.

These trends for obtaining the freshest fruits and vegetables and conserving water can benefit everyone, whether or not you live in the South Central region.

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