Xeriscaping means planting drought tolerant plants that use very little water. Being water-wise does not mean that you have to plant just cactus and other desert plants. Landscapes with rocks and cactus are really “zero-scaping.”

Now why would you want to bother with xeriscaping? Why not just put rocks around your yard, if you are concerned about conserving water? Rocks are not a good choice for landscaping because they create a heat sink. Once they are warmed up by the sun, they hold that heat. Plants transpire – meaning that they give off water – and this helps to cools the air around them.

There are many, many types of plants, including trees, that are well-suited to xeriscaping. Proper selection of plant materials and use of good water management techniques are the key to successful xeriscaping. How to water your lawn properly was covered in an earlier post so this blog will deal primarily with selecting appropriate plant materials for your xeriscape.


Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensi) does well in drought-like conditions with minimal water (2). The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) and Rocky Mountain Sugar Maple (Acer glabrum) also do well once they have been established (1). Establishment of plants means that they have a good root system. It usually takes about one year for most trees to get well-established.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensi)


Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensi)


Harisons yellow rose (Rosa harisonii) uses low to moderate water and does well after it is established (1). Lilac (Syringa sp.) and Spirea (Spiraea sp.) are some other shrubs that will serve well as xeriscaping plants (1). Butterfly Bush (Buddleia sp.), Dogwood (Cornus sp.) and Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) also can be used successfully in your xeriscape.(2). There are many other shrubs available that are well-suited xeriscaping.

Butterfly  Bush


Butterfly Bush


There some types of vines that do well in xeriscaping: Trumpet Vine (Campsis x tagliabuana), Honeysuckle (Lonicera ssp), and Clematis (Clematis sp.) are just a few that I like (2).


Trumpet vine (Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’)

Other Suitable Plants

There are many types of annuals and perennials flowering plants that are good for use in xeriscaping. The Bearded Iris (Iris sp.) is a good spring blooming plant; California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is good summer blooming plant (1). Yarrow (Achillea sp.), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum), Crocus (Crocus sp.), Ice Plant (Delosperma sp.) are some of my favorite drought-tolerant perennials (2).


Ice Plant

There are many good books listing the different types of plants you can use to xeriscape with or you can look them up on the net. The water authority for many urban areas have websites listing native plants that you could use and many cities have demonstration gardens so you can see how beautiful xeriscaping can be.

The most important thing to remember is that you want to group all of your low water use plants together so that they do not get over-watered.

(1) Denver Water. Xeriscape Plant Guide, Denver, Colorado. 1996

(2) City of Colorado Springs on behalf of Colorado Springs Utilities done in 2003. http://www.csu.org/wa/xeri/plants.jsp


Patio/Container Gardening

You might think, “Well this gardening stuff sounds cool, but what I live in an apartment and all I have is a little patio?” Or, you may be thinking, “I am renting and do not want to invest a lot of money in some one else’s place.” There is an easy solution to both of these dilemmas: container gardening.


Supplies that you will need are: a pot of some sort, (your pot can be any container that has a good drainage hole in the bottom), rocks to put in the bottom of the pot to help drain off excess water, and a saucer to catching the water that drains through the pot (this is especially important if you have a wood floor on your patio). You will also need good soil that contains a high amount of organic matter, and, of course, you need plants. After you’ve gathered up all of your supplies, put about a half inch of rocks in the bottom of the pot or container of your choice then fill it up with soil.

Some Containers with plants

athomeathome.blogspot.com http://www.mikesgarden.co.uk


You can put either annuals or perennials in your container, or you can use a combination of the two. Some good annuals for a starting a container garden are marigolds, petunias, pansy, lobelia and impatiens for shady areas. Some good perennials to put in you planter are any of the different types of ornamental grass, bleeding hearts and bee balm. Any of these can be combined to make a very attractive container garden in a very limited space. Or, if you’re interested in growing your own food, you could plant easy-to-grow veggies like radishes, onions and lettuce in your container!


Be sure to check your containers every day because they will dry out easily out in the sun and wind. Remember that even a fair-sized container will not have as much of a water reserve in the soil for your plants as they would have if they were planted out in a yard. The plants in the containers will need to be fertilized just like your house plants since they can only get whatever nutrients you put in the pot.

Have fun patio/container gardening. Feel free to try experiment with different plants for in your containers. There is a huge variety of plant material available that will work just fine.

Plant Types

Let’s talk about the different types of plants that you could put out in your yard or in a container on your patio. There are several different types of plant materials available: perennials, annuals, biennial, rhizomes, bulbs, corms, and tubers. What is the difference and why do we care anything about them? It is important to know about these different types of plants so you will know how to plant them properly and how often you will need to replace them.  The type of plant you purchase will also influence how you care for your it.



A perennial is a plant that grows for several years at a time from the same roots. There are both large perennials and small ones. For example, a tree is a perennial.  It grows off the same roots every year and you do not need to replace it on an annual basis. An example of a smaller perennial is a columbine.  Your columbines will die back to the ground at the end of the growing season, but will come back up the next year and grow and bloom.





An annual is a plant one that will is only viable for one growing season. It will die and will need to be replaced. Annuals can also be large or small. A sunflower is an example of a large annual that is usually grown that can be grown from a seed but it will not live beyond one growing season so must be planted again the next year. An example of a smaller annual is a pansy which grows well for one season then dies and does not come back up the next year. Often though, it seems as if they do come back up because they self-seed. That simply means that the plant’s seeds will drop near the plant and germinate without any outside help so new plants will come up the next growing season.





A biennial is a plant that takes two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. Biennials usually produce vegetative or green growth the first year and then flower and reproduce the next year. They can be large or small in size. Fox glove (digitalis) is a large biennial from the figwort family. It produces foliage the first season then dies back only to come back up the next growing season and bloom. Another example is hesperis, also known as sweet rocket, dame’s rocket and mother of the evening.  It grows nice soft green foliage the first season then blooms the next season.

Fox glove (digitalis)



A rhizome is a fleshy, horizontal growing stem that is found at or near the surface of the ground (1). Rhizomes can grow to be large or small. Most rhizomes should not be planted very deep or they will not grow. Instead, place the rhizome just below the soil surface. Bamboo typically develop from a rhizome and will come up year after year in the right environment.  They are generally considered a tropical plant but some species do well in colder regions. An iris is another example of rhizomous plant.  Iris will come up every growing season, die back to the ground, then come back the next year. You can divide rhizomes easily if they become too crowded by simply cutting the rhizomes apart.







A bulb is a specialized underground storage structure that contains all the plant parts within thickened, fleshy scales. There are two types of bulbs – tunicate and non-tunicate. A tunicate bulb is characterized by layers of fleshy tissues (like an onion). Non-tunicate bulbs have scales that are fleshy and separate easily. A tulip is a tunicate bulb It will come up year after year, but eventually it will deplete the reserve food supply in the bulb and it need to be replaced. A bigger non-tunicate bulb is an Asiatic lily that will return year after year with very little maintenance required.


Tulip Bulb




A corm is the base of the stem that is swollen and is enclosed in a dry covering (1). Gladiolus grows from a corm. These garden favorites will grow well for a season but in colder areas, you must dig them back up, store them inside, and replant them the next year. A crocus grows from a corm but does not need to be lifted each season.  They are often the first flower to bloom in the spring and lend themselves well to naturalizing.






A tuber is a special kind of swollen underground stem that stores food for the plant (1). Most of you have seen a potato which is one type of tuber. There are also flowers that are tubers for example a dahlia is a tuber that ranges in height from 12 inches to 6 to eight feet tall. In colder areas, dahlias need to be dug in the fall and stored as they don’t do well in colder temperatures.  Digging them up and storing them will provide the gardener with many seasons of beautiful blooms.  Another example of  tubers are certain species of begonia, called (interestingly enough) tuberous begonias.  These  grow 8 to 10 inches tall and are well-suited for hanging baskets.

Potato Plant and tuber



The examples given for each category are only a few of the amazing array of plant material available for your gardening pleasure.



(1) Plant Propagation:  Principles and Practices by H.T. Hartmann, D.E. Kester, F.T. Davies, and R.L. Geneve, 7th Ed.

Vegetable Gardens

You might think that it is too hard to grow your own vegetable garden and that it is easier to just go to the store to buy your vegetables. When you have your own garden there are many benefits – like knowing what exactly has or has not been put in your food, getting high quality, absolutely fresh produce, and having the satisfaction of having grown it yourself.  In addition, it is usually cheaper to grow your own vegetables than it is to buy them at the store. Best of all, home-grown vegetables just seem to taste better. There are a few good ways to maximize the benefits from your vegetable garden  and these that are not very hard to do.




  • To maximize your garden space, the best thing that you can do is to use raised beds to plant in. The easiest way to do this is by simply nailing boards together to form a square or rectangle. These boards should be about two inches in height and about an inch in thickness. The overall length of the raised bed can vary depending on how much room you have for your garden, but I don’t recommend making them more than four feet wide. The reason that you do not want your beds wider than four feet is that it will be easier for you to weed the bed and to harvest the produce since the typical person can only reach about two feet with out stretching.  If you limit your bed to four feet wide and put a path around it you will be able to access it from both sides.  Another benefit of having a raised bed garden is that it is not as prone to weeds. Weeds in a typical garden will often out-compete the vegetables and reduce the amount of harvest.  It will also be easier to control the amount of water you use in a raised bed.

Raised bed form


  • Next, you will need to fill your raised garden bed with soil. The soil that you use in your garden bed, should be high in organic matter, but be sure to buy soil that is weed-free. Do not fill your bed all the way up but leave a few inches at the top so that you can place a soaker hose in the bed.


  • A soaker hose is a lot like a leaky pipe that just drips out a small amount of water into the soil. Soaker hoses help keep down the amount of water lost to evaporation. Place your soaker hose so that it is only about one foot from the side of your garden bed then double it  back (if you’re doing a four foot wide bed) so that you  get complete water coverage. When you have your soaker hose in place, cover it up with the soil. When you water, the water will be delivered to the roots where it will benefit the plants the most.



  • Now you are ready to start planting but what should you plant and how much?  What you can plant will depend on your location.  Most garden centers will be happy tell you what is appropriate for your area.  They can also advise you on  the proper time to plant your garden.
  • Most of the seed packets will have information about how much you should plant in a given space and will also specify how deep the seeds should be planted and how far apart they should be.
  • Once you’re done planting, you should place about one inch of mulch around the unplanted areas to discourage weeds. Do not place thick mulch where you have placed your seeds as it may keep them from sprouting. If you do not feel comfortable about mulching at seeding time, wait until your seeds start coming up, then mulch around the seedlings. The mulch will help to reduce water loss and keep your soil moist.



  • When you are ready to water your garden bed, just hook up a regular hose to the soaker hose and turn on the faucet. How long should you water?  When you ask your garden center about what to plant for your area, find out also what the water needs for the veggies you’ve chosen since different plants require different amounts of water.


Good luck and happy Gardening.


Since it is starting to get a little bit warmer, this is a good time to talk about how you should water your lawn to keep it healthy and, at the same time, help save water. There are many types of grass for lawns. Each type of grass has a different texture and different water needs.


Types of Grass:

  • Kentucky Blue Grass is a favorite for lawns but is commonly thought of as a grass that requires lots of water to grow well and look nice and green. This isn’t necessarily true, however. It is a fine-textured grass that greens up early in the spring and holds up well to the heat of summer (June-August). It will go dormant if it does not have enough water but it won’t die out. Kentucky Blue Grass hold up well to high traffic so it is a good choice for use in a play area.
Kentucky Blue Grass


Kentucky Blue Grass
  • Buffalo Grass is a fine textured perennial grass native to the Great Plains. It does not green up as early in the spring and turns brown earlier in the fall than many other species. It is very drought-tolerant, however, so it does not need very much water even during the heat of summer. Over-watering will encourage other species like Bermuda grass and other aggressive grasses to invade the lawn and out-compete Buffalo Grass. It is not well suited for high traffic areas or shaded site.
Buffalo Grass
Buffalo Grass


  • Tall Fescue has a coarser texture than Kentucky Blue Grass but has found wide acceptance as a lawn grass. It is well-adapted to a variety of soil and climate conditions and is fairly drought tolerant. It does not recover well from wear so bare areas may be a problem unless it is reseeded.
Tall Fescue
Tall Fescue


    • Fine Fescue is finer textured than Tall Fescue but none of the fescues tolerate wear and tear well. Fine Fescue is very shade tolerant but tends to take on a brown haze if conditions are dry. It grows very slowly so does not require much fertilizer.
    Fine Fescue
    Fine Fescue


    • Frequently, blends of fescues and bluegrass are used for lawns.

    Water Needs:

    • The water needs of each types of grass are different. Kentucky Blue Grass needs 26 inches of water annually, Fescues needs 20 inches of water annually, and Buffalo Grass needs 17 inches of water annually (1).

    How to Water:

    • If you want to have a Kentucky Blue Grass lawn there are ways that you can get it without having to use so much water. One of the best ways that you can have a nice green lawn is by watering your lawn by the “soak and cycle method.” This sounds more complex than it really is.


    • The first step is to water a section of your yard for about five minutes and then turn the hose off and let the water soak into the ground for about ten minutes or so. Then turn the water back on for another five minutes and then back off. Repeat this for your entire lawn. The benefit of watering your lawn this way is that it promotes deep grass roots. This will make your lawn more drought-tolerant because it will have a larger root system to draw moister from. Another benefit in having a deeper root system is that the lawn will out-compete annual weeds that might grow up in the lawn because annual weeds have very shallows root systems.


    • The soak and cycle method of watering can be used for any type of grass. It will greatly reduce the amount of water needed for your lawn. This method can also be used with sprinkler systems it is just a matter of programming the systems.


    Fertilizing of the Lawn

    • The fertilizing of your lawn is also important element in determining how much water it will need. If you fertilize your lawn during the heat of the summer it will grow more and will require more water during that time because it is actively growing. Your lawn will already need more water because of the heat during the summer months so you should choose instead to fertilize your lawn in the fall. Fertilizing in the fall will help to replenish the nutrients that were used up during the active growing season and will give the grass roots a healthy start for winter dormancy. One other key thing to know about fertilizing your lawn is that you can reduce the amount of fertilizer needed if you do not bag up your grass clippings but instead let the clippings stay on the lawn. This gives your lawn back the nutrients within the grass that you cut. You may need to mow your lawn a little more frequently to keep it looking trim, but adding organic matter to it will make for a much healthier lawn.


    Mowing the Lawn

    • Reducing the amount of water that your lawn needs can be affected by how you mow your lawn. The best way is set your lawn mower to the highest setting because this allows the grass more surface areas to photosynthesize and will, therefore, enhance root growth. Mowing your lawn like this keeps weeds from out-competing your grass since weeds do not do well if they are constantly being mowed.



    (1) Whiting, David E. The Science of Gardening. 2006



    Cacti are good house plants to consider because they are very low maintenance. Just because they do not take a lot of water does not mean that they don’t need water.

    One type of cactus to consider is Astrophytum capricorne or goat’s horn, which is gray and spineless. They like warm temperatures but need to have good air flow (1). Another type is Cephalocereus, or columnar cactus. There are many species of columnar cactus, and they all require at least four hours of direct sunlight per day. They also need to be watered whenever the soil is dry (1). There are also several other types of cactus to consider.

     Goat’s horn                                        Columnar Cactus 
    http://public.fotki.com/                                                  http://www.britannica.com


    Goat’s horn                                          Columnar Cactus


    In general, cacti need to have direct sunlight for at least four full hours per day.

    Watering and Fertilizing

    Water only when the soil is completely dry and fertilize with house plant fertilizer only once a month (1).

    Temperature and Pests

    They need temperature at 60 to 85 degrees (1). Cacti are extremely prone to spider mites.


    (1) Clark, David E. Ed. How to Grow House Plants.Sunset Books, Menlo Park, CA 1976


                            Green Shamrock          Purple Shamrok

                              Green Shamrock                 Purple Shamrok 


    Saint Patrick’s Day is coming soon (March 17th) so a few words about the shamrock seems appropriate. The Irish word for clover is seamaróg, which means “clover.” (3)

     Plants sold as shamrocks in this country are generally those from the Wood Sorrell Family and are not clovers at all, but rather are from the genus Oxalis. (4) They are grown from bulbs. A bulb is the underground part of the stem that is used as storage device for the plant.  The leaves of shamrocks close during the night, folding up into a tepee. They have small white, yellow, purple or rose flowers(1). Most shamrocks come from Africa and South America (2).

                          Green Shamrork at night             Purple Shamrock        

                        Green Shamrork at night             Purple Shamrock at night


    Shamrocks require a sunny spot (1), though they will do okay with some shade. 

    Watering and Fertilizing

    Water heavily in the growing season; then water only as needed (1) the rest of the time.Fertilize the shamrock every two to three weeks with regular house plant food when it is actively growing (2).

      Temperature and Pests

    Shamrocks prefer 65 degree to 75 degree  temperatures but can go down to 50 degrees at night (2). They do not have many pest problems.

    (1) Clark, David E. Ed. How to Grow House Plants.Sunset Books, Menlo Park, CA 1976.

    (2) Swinford, Rachel. Fact Sheet on Shamrock, Four-leaf Clover, Oxalis. Cobb County Extension Service.

    (3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamrock

    (4) http://landscaping.about.com/cs/lawns/a/clover_lawns.htm

    A Good House Plant is a Spider Plant

    The scientific name for a spider plant or air plane plant is Chlorophytum comosum (1). The reason that it is of some importance to know the scientific name of your plant is that some plants have many common names so it can be confusing to find more information on your plant.

    Spider plants are native to the tropics (1). These plants have long slender leaves that tend to hang over the side of the pot. The leaves of this plant can come in either green, green with white edges, or white with green edges. The flowers of spider plants are rather plain because they are small and are white. One of the best features of this plant is that it produces miniature duplicates of itself that can be potted up to give you a new plant (1).

                 Spider plant with other house plant                     Green Spider Plant                              

    Spider plant with other house plant      Green Spider Plant


             Miniature Duplicates                 Just planted Duplicate

         Miniature Duplicates                 Just Planted Duplicate  


    The spider plant prefers to have indirect light because its leaves can sunburn (2). This means that they are quite shade tolerant so this is one plant that can also live happily in your office. Spider plants may be grown out doors as annual or even as a perennial in certain parts of the world (3).

     Watering and Fertilizing 

    These plants need watered only when they are dry. Fertilize only when the plant is actively growing, that is, when they are putting out new leaves, flowers or duplicates (2). The fertilizer you choose can be any type that is recommended for house plants. All fertilizers will have numbers on them like 15-20-15. This means that there are 15 parts potassium within the fertilizer mix (the first number). Potassium is a nutrient that plants require in order to flower.  The 20 means that there are 20 parts nitrogen (which helps the plants leaves grow) and the last 15 means that there is phosphorus (which promotes root growth).

     Temperature and Pests  

    Spider plants prefer to have the temperature about 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and a little cooler at night (2). They are relatively pest free except when they are over watered but they may prone to spider mites.


    (1) Clark, David E. Ed. How to Grow House Plants.Sunset Books, Menlo Park, CA 1976.

    (2) Prepared by Russs, Karen and Pertuit, Al “HOME & GARDEN INFORMATION  CENTER” Http://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheets/HGIC1513.htm

    (3) “Plants of the UNF CampusHttp://www.unf.edu/dept/physfac/landscape/plants/Chlorophytumcomosum.pdf

    Things to avoid when buying a plant

    Bugs and other pesky things

    When looking for a plant to buy, avoid any plants that have fuzzy-looking white spots on them. These spots can mean you plant has woolly aphids, scales or mealybugs — all of which are harmful to your plant. Even though they usually do not kill the plant, these pests suck the phloem from your plant and make it weaker. (The Phloem is food-conducting tissue located in the stem of a plant.) (1)

    If the plant has aphids you will be able to see honeydew on the plant. Honeydew, the excreted waste of aphids, can be identified as a sticky substance on the leaves or stem of the plant. Most adult aphids are easy to get rid of by simply using a strong stream of water to rinse your plants off. Aphids usually give birth to live young females and these young females are already pregnant with the next generation. Aphids do over wintering as an egg and those are harder to detect and get rid of.



    Photographer: Whiney Cranshaw, Colorado State University

     Scales are a lot like aphids but they are much harder to get rid of, because the only time that you can spray them is when they are in what is called the “crawler stage” (2). The crawler stage is the only stage in which scales are mobile. If you have a plant with scales use a horticultural oil. An horticultural oil is a specific type of oil that is used as an insecticide that basically smother the insect. 




    Mealybugs also produce honeydew, but unlike aphids and scales they are more mobile. It is extremely hard to get rid of them since, not only are they more mobile, but they cover their body in a waxy substance that protects them from sprays.





    You will need to avoid any plant that has small holes in the leaves. These are called shotholes and are caused by flea beetles (1). Flea beetles can eventually totally destroy your plant. They can also carry numerous diseases that are harmful to plants.

    One really easy thing that will help you to determine what plant to buy is appearance. If the plant looks wilted and the leaves seem to be limp or if the plant has a lot of brown or yellowing leaves, it might be infested by insects, or have a disease or a virus.


    Now that you know what condition your plant is in, where to buy it, and what to look out for when buying your plant, let’s talk about what you will need to do for it right off the bat. Many plants that you buy are root bound, which means that there are more roots than soil in the pot, so you will need to repot it.

    This brings up the question of what size of pot should you put it into, and what type of soil should you use?

    The size of the pot will depend upon the size of the current pot that your plant is in. As a general rule, you only want to go to a pot that is about an inch and half to two inches bigger than your current pot. The pot that you choose should have a hole in the bottom of it for drainage. You should place about a half inch of rock or tiles in the bottom of the pot to allow for better drainage.

    Soil is extremely important and while there are many different soil mixes available price is should not be the deciding factor. Soil not only provides support for the plant but it is also its source for nutrients and water. So what should you look for?

    A good soil should have a fairly high amount of organic materials, should be light weight and not be sticky and clay-like. Clay-like soil tends to stick together and will not allow your plants to get sufficient air. Plants like to breathe too! Be careful not to get soil that has high amounts of manure because these tend to be higher in salts and can be harmful to your plant.


    Clay soil                   Good soil 

     Clay soil                                         Good soil

    http://www.webstockpro.com          http://www.fotosearch.com

    Now that you have your pot and soil, take your pot with the rocks or tile in the bottom and fill about two thirds of the pot with your soil. Next, wet down the soil so that it is just damp to the touch. Carefully dig a hole in the soil. Take your plant and gently loosen the root ball, then place your plant into the hole and cover it just above the initial root ball. Don’t bury it.   Water the plant and put it in its new home.

    (1) Cranshaw, Whitney. Garden Insects of North America. New Jersey: Princeton University Prees, 2004

    (2) Cranshaw, Whitney. Pests of the West Revised. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1998

    Where to buy your plant

    There are two major choices on where to buy your plant. The first are box stores (Wal-Mart or the like), next is a garden center. 

    Box stores can be a good place to purchase a plant if price is your main consideration. You can still find decent quality at a box store you just have to look a bit closer at the plant you are purchasing. The plants that box stores get are of high quality but the workers are usually not trained on how to properly care for the plants that they get. As a result of this the quality of these plants tends to be lower.  

    A garden center or a greenhouse usually has higher quality plants but may also have higher prices. Most will offer you better help in selecting your plant as the workers have a greater knowledge of plants, plus the care that goes into the plants at a garden center balances out the higher prices. 

    One other way you could get a house plant is by the sharing method. This is free but will take longer to have a nice sized plant. Find someone that has an established plant and obtain a small piece of it. You will need to place it into water. Make sure you remove all the leaves that are under the surface of the water because they will put off ethanol that will stop the plant from rooting. Leave the plant in the water until several roots develop then pot in soil.

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