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10:03 PM Fri, Nov. 16th

Column: Get beautiful landscapes with less water

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo

Ken Lain/Courtesy photo

GARDEN ALERT! I just noticed the first grasshopper hatch in my yard. If left unchecked, I have heard stories of the ground "moving" because so many grasshoppers were devouring the landscape, and with this spring's moisture I'm afraid this year's crop of grasshoppers could be a problem.

Fortunately, if attacked now, while at a young age, this insidious pest can be controlled. I already have spread 'NOLO Grasshopper Bait' around the perimeter of my property as a barrier to this potentially devastating problem.

NOLO bait is wheat laced with a deadly virus that, when consumed, causes grasshoppers to stop eating and eventually die of starvation. It also affects their eggs so that its lethal results effectively pass from generation to generation. At the first sign of baby grasshoppers in the yard, spread this bait following the simple instructions on the bag. It is all natural and very safe to use around children, pets and wild birds.

The heat of summer is coming ... and with it the tendency to over-water plants in our landscapes. That's why I decided to devote the rest of this column to what I call "smart gardening," aka xeriscape, drought hardy or low-care landscapes. Simply put, it is working with nature, instead of working against it like so many gardeners do by using too much water.

Several studies of western gardens suggest that homeowners over-water their landscapes by 50 percent. My own experiences at the garden center concur. I would say 80 percent of plant replacements are to replace plants killed by over-watering. The primary reason plants fail in our mountain clay soils is over-watering, a fact most homeowners stubbornly refuse to concede. This results in many drowned plants and unnecessarily high water bills.

This week's plant photo is from my yard; it receives little to no care, yet is so-o-o-o good looking. The gaura and carnation combo is surrounded by rocks and not a bit of shade. It's a perfect situation for these plants that like intense sun and prefer their soil kept on the dry side. I water with drip irrigation twice a week, which provides adequate moisture. Also, it conveniently releases the nutrients from the "All Natural Plant Food" granules applied earlier this spring.

Other successful companion plants are junipers and violets, snapdragons and mint, Russian sage and Mexican primrose. I usually call these plants "low water users." I don't like the word "xeric" because it sounds so prickly, and "drought tolerant" conjures up visions of aboveground drip tubing. "Water thrifty" is another good term I heard from my grandmother as she worked in her garden, a tissue tucked up her sleeve. However, "Yavapai Friendly Plants" sounds like an appropriate, yet softer and prettier, label for growth that can survive our dry region.

These plants typically have waxy, fuzzy or thorny foliage. Many have smaller foliage and some, such as yuccas, agaves and brooms, have no foliage at all. Expand your "water thrifty" plant palette to include ornamental grasses, bulbs, shrubs, natives, succulents and most plants from Mediterranean climates. As these plants are endowed with many stems loaded with leaves, they definitely fit my Yavapai County-friendly criteria.

Yavapai friendly landscape principles

• Provide shade - Start with shade trees that help keep the landscape shaded, cool and moist, especially during the summer.

• Pick appropriate plants - If you think yuccas are yucky, just look around and you'll discover other plants that rely on a lot less water than you thought necessary. For example, daffodils don't need a drop of water in the summer. I created a local low-water use plant list called "Yavapai Friendly Plants." Ask for it the next time you visit the garden center.

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I have a large family with teenagers who love their showers and do many loads of laundry. I also have lush gardens in full bloom year-round. Yet, we use no more water than the average Prescott household. Here are a few watering principles that work in my landscape:

Tips to cut water usage

• Don't waste water - 50 percent of landscape water is wasted in runoff, irrigation leaks and over-watering. Keeping careful watch over your irrigation system makes a big difference.

• Control runoff - create permeable areas of the landscape or depression areas called rain gardens where water can gather before it goes into the watershed. Your plants will be glad you did and so will your neighbor downhill from you.

• Mulch like there is no tomorrow - I'm still impressed by the difference a three-inch layer of mulch makes towards retaining the water we must use.

More tips to cut water usage

1. Learn about the plants you already have. They may require only a fraction of the water you are using. Group plants according to water needs.

2. Pay attention to your landscape design. Not all drought-hardy landscapes need to be dull as dirt. Plan a creative design of water-thrifty plants to take center stage.

3. Be your own smart timer. Learn to read your landscape; look at the soil, plants and consider the climate before you flip on the water switch or drag out that hose.

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This Saturday's garden class starts at 9:30, and is entitled "Maximize the Vegetable Harvest." Next week's class focus is on "Gardening for Newcomers." Classes are free, informative, open to all gardeners, and a lot of fun.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain, "my personal mission is to help local homeowners garden smarter and get our local garden timing right." Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, or may be contacted through his web site at www.wattersonline.com .