Did you know that one low water use plant can save up to 550 gallons of precious water each year?
Many Pacific Northwest residents could face voluntary or mandatory water restrictions this summer. While that might not be the case for North Coast gardeners, it's still wise and resourceful to conserve water in the garden.
One way to save water is to choose low water use plants. The Regional Water Providers Consortium offers a helpful list of water-saving candidates. There's still time to plant on these overcast mornings - while new plants do require a bit more water to get them established, you can choose locations where you are already watering, or substitute these plants for more water-greedy ones.
In the ground cover group, consider creeping juniper, kinnikinnick, St. John's Wort and rock cress, which can all take full sun. Part shade candidates include oxalis and thyme.
As for shrubs, barberry, heavenly bamboo, Oregon grape, flowering currant, spirea and escallonia like part shade. Euonymus, ceanothus and cotoneaster take part shade.
Perennials that grow in full sun include calendula, coreopsis, day lilies, spurge, Shasta daisies, lavenders, montbretia, Russian sage, red hot pokers, coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. Part shade candidates include Corsican hellebores.
One great annual and container plant that can take dry conditions is the petunia. Keep the blossoms dry and open - you'll notice that after a rain, the flowers will often close up and take a few days to open again. Don't overhead water. There are lots of hearty, long-blooming varieties from which to choose, including the new "Wave" series that fill an empty space quickly and look great in hanging baskets. Calibrachoas or "Million Bells" are close cousins to petunias and give smaller blossoms. "Million Bells" and "Wave" can do without much deadheading and pinching - they just keep blooming.
In general, try to group your plants according to their water needs. Natives and drought-tolerant plants need less water - if you can come up with pleasing combinations from those plant groups, you'll go a long way toward saving water. Plants with low fertilizing requirements also save you water.
And do remember, a hearty rain can eliminate the need for watering for up to two weeks. When you do water, do it during early morning hours, when temperatures are cooler. Don't water on windy days. Water is lost to evaporation or can be blown away from plants.
Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation on trees, shrubs and planting beds to apply water directly to the soil. Before watering, check the soil below the surface. Just because the surface is dry doesn't mean the roots need water. There may be moisture below the surface. Use a screwdriver as a probe to test soil moisture. If it goes in easily, don't water. And water only as rapidly as the soil can absorb the water to prevent runoff. Break up your watering times if water puddles or runs off your lawn. Let water soak in, then water again.
When you turn to your lawn, consider advice from Tom Cook, Oregon State University Extension's turf grass expert. In a press release from OSU, Cook reminds us to prioritize our lawn areas. Water small and important areas as needed, but apply minimal water to less important lawn areas, and no water at all to outlying areas. Most lawns survive, but will go dormant and turn brown in a dry year if you do not water. Come fall, rain will green things up again. If weaker spots of the lawn have died, you can reseed in fall and the lawn should recover over the winter.
Cook gives more advice in a publication that you can order from OSU. Request "Conserving Water in the Garden: Landscape and Lawn Care," publication EC 153. The cost is $1, plus $3 for shipping and handling. Send your request and check or money order payable to OSU to Publication Orders, Extension and Station Communications, OSU, 422 Kerr Administration, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119. You can also view the list online at eesc.orst.edu/ag-comwebfile/garden, then choose "Publications and Videos," then "Gardening," then "Lawns."
While we're on topic of water conservation, summer is a good time to help your friendly water meter reader. Do prune those shrubs and plants that might have grown over the meters.
Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online to peterson @pacifier.com