Virtual Water-Wise Gardens
Society's YardSmart message includes
Waterwise methods include using
drought tolerant plants, campanion planting, mulching, and so much
more. As part of this program design modules are used to
illustrate how to incorportate water-wise beds into your exisitng
garden or to use when you are planning a new
Protecting our rivers means
limiting the use of our storm water management system.
Creating a water wise garden supports water conservation and saves
you money on your water bill!
Thank you to Society
volunteers, Gay Graham and Marion Harrison for
supporting our program by creating design modules, along with plant
cards that will make your garden planning easy.
Veronica Red Fox
The objective of water-wise gardening is to reduce treated
water usage. Water-efficient landscaping involves selecting plants
that are more drought tolerant, and also planning the placement of
less drought tolerant plants in places where they can grow and
thrive with little or no extra water.
How to Create
a Water Wise Garden
A plan will assist
in identifying the type and amount of materials needed, create a
timeline to organize materials and labour, and outline a budget for
your water wise garden. There are many sources of landscape
information including books and the internet that will help you
make decisions, draw your detailed plan, select your plants and
outline a budget.
The following tips
will help you with your design.
-Draw the layout of
your property paying attention to:
- Property orientation (north, east, south, west) and wind
- The amount of sun exposure (sun, part sun and shade) and the
influences of neighbouring buildings and/or trees
- Existing buildings/hardscape
- Your activities (play area, gardening, compost, storage)
-Decide what level of maintenance you are willing to provide as
that will affect the amount of planted, mulched, grassed and
layout of your future design also considering:
- The style you prefer. Styles vary anywhere from a minimalistic,
arid look to a lush, continually flowering look
- Water use and collection
- Placing new and existing plants in the best water use zone for
each plant and grouping plantings with similar water needs
- Taking into consideration possible topographic alterations
including new hardscape, modifying a poorly draining low spot,
- Building/hardscape/soil alterations
Soil - descriptions
and identifying soil types
a Garden from a Grassed Area - different
Method - using common materials to cover
'Lasagna Gardening' Method - layering materials to
create better soil
- how to create raised beds
success to any garden is its soil. The ideal soil structure
balances drainage, aeration and its water holding capacity, which
supports plant root development. Most soils are
deficient in organic matter.
properties of soil play a big part in supporting the nutritional
needs of the plants. Although plants do have preferred water
requirements, if planted in the proper soil their need for
water is generally reduced.
Your Existing Soil -
Loam, Sand and Clay
The best soil with
the proper structure and chemistry for growing plants is dark
loam. Dark loam soil structure is fairly easy to work with and
has a good combination of water retention and drainage properties,
allowing enough aeration to hold moisture and nutrients long enough
to support most annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs.
Soil that is
too sandy is unable to retain enough moisture to supply the plant
between waterings. Clay soil can inhibit drainage when wet,
resulting in drowned plants. Dry clay can become very hard and
impervious, starving the plant and causing runoff problems, leaving
the plant roots dry after a rain and washing away the topsoil.
general types of soil from left to right: sand, loam,
Quick Do it Yourself Soil Test
quick test to easily determine the structure of your soil, dig
up a handful of soil, wet it slightly and make a ball-shape in your
- If you have trouble forming a ball,
your soil has sand as a major
- If it readily forms into a ball and you
can squeeze it between your thumb and fingers to form a "soil
ribbon" that easily breaks off, your soil has a good
combination of sand/silt/clay or loam.
- If the soil sample easily forms into a
ball when damp and you can squeeze it between your thumb and
fingers forming a "soil ribbon" that does not easily
break off, your soil is mainly
Both sandy and
clay soils can be helped with the addition of organic matter. It
acts like a sponge to hold water and supplies an environment for
beneficial microorganisms. It also creates space between
tightly packed clay soil particles allowing excess water to
work organic matter (such as compost, well decomposed manure,
purchased loam, or various combinations of organic matter) into the
top 3 - 5 cm (1" - 2") of soil. Even loam needs a boost
every year to maintain and support plant health as organic matter
continually breaks down and decomposes. Digging
in too deep will disturb the structure of the soil and can
damage very useful worms who do a great job of mixing the organic
matter into the lower levels and aerating the
Clay soils can
be improved by adding round landscape sand (not sharp as it will
interlock with the clay particles forming a consistency of
concrete, nor builder's sand as it has lime in it and will turn the
soil into cement). Products that help to break up clay soils
include zeolite and gypsum.
levels allow the plant roots to absorb necessary
nutrients and minerals from the soil. Most plants grow well
with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 (detailed values and ranges for
individual plant preferences can be found in gardening books). pH
levels allow the plant roots to absorb necessary nutrients and
minerals from the soil. Various materials can raise the pH of
the soil (crushed egg, clam or oyster shells, wood ashes, calcitic
lime) and other materials can lower the soil pH (sawdust, wood
chips, peat moss).
Calgary has a soil pH registering between 6.0
-7.0. Soil pH kits can be found at garden
centers, or have your soil professionally tested to find out its
nutrient and mineral content.
It just might
be that the simple addition of a good top-dressing of loam or
organic matter is what your plants need to be healthy.
Garden from a Grassed Area
Reasons for removing
a traditional lawn could include specific new purposes for the area
(like a vegetable garden) or the desire to be more environmentally
conscious by using ornamental grasses, perennials and/or
groundcovers that require less water and maintenance. A
layout plan should include:
- hardscape requirements (dimensions,
creation of focal points)
- list of materials
- improvements required (fixing drainage
problems, soil amelioration, problem tree removal,
- selection of vegetation
- type of soil preparation
method of laying out the area of a proposed new bed is to use a
garden hose. Outline the area that is going to be smothered with
the hose to easily see the proportions of the bed and
adjust as necessary.
is a necessary component when→ creating an island of
perennials in a sea of grass, as it minimizes the growth of
invasive grass creeping back into the new bed. Edging
materials can include lawn edging, trenches, rocks or
are different methods of turning that expanse of green into a bed
of your favourite perennials, vegetables and herbs or a mixture of
all three. So far we only have the smother
smother relatively easily, so creating those new beds can be
accomplished with a minimum of cost, effort and simple preparation
without sacrificing valuable organic matter.
- Before covering the grass, cut it as
short as possible, leaving the cuttings on the lawn. This allows
the nutrients from the grass clippings to become available to the
- Lay down five to eight sheets of
newspaper making sure to overlap the pages so that all the grass is
too many sheets of newspaper can serve as a barrier to plant roots,
restricting root formation to the soil above the paper.
A deep root system gives the plants access to deeper soil moisture
reserves enhancing the plants' ability to survive periods of
limited precipitation without extra watering.
- Wetting down the newspaper as you
proceed or pre-soaking them in a large tub of water is recommended
as a time saver to prevent them from scurrying across the
- Cardboard can also be used in the place
of newspaper and its weight makes it easier to place and harder for
the wind to displace.
- The last step in this process is to
stake or weigh down impermeable tarps over the whole area. The
tarps will keep your paper in place, keep the light out, retain
moisture from the dying grass and keeps the area looking neat until
you are ready to continue.
- If your soil is good and you want
to plant directly into the dead sod, cover the area with mulch 7 -
10 cm (3"- 4") to hold the newspaper down. When it's time to
plant, move the mulch out of the way to make holes for your
plants, then, after the plant is secure, replace the
mulch around the plant.
- If hardscapes such as walkways or
patios are to be added, five to eight sheets of newspaper
under a good foundation of sand and screenings are all that is
needed to kill the grass and keep it from growing
- A black tarp or light-blocking plastic
sheet placed early in June will usually result in enough heat
build-up and lack of light and moisture to supress all the
vegetation under it in about three to four weeks
- After the tarp has done its job, it is
the ideal time to boost the quality of your soil. Topdressing
with compost or a soil/compost combination 7 - 10 cm (3"- 4") to
help with the decay of the dead grass will go a long way in helping
your plants flourish. The microorganisms in the new compost
and/or soil will also make nutrients available to the plants
and further develop a good soil structure.
and newspapers smother the grass; the heavy black pond liner is
used as a base for a dry/wet rock streambed and directs
rainwater to the lower part of the garden.
demonstrates how the use of a heavy black tarp (the newspaper was
removed to see the dead grass) over a period of four weeks kills
the grass and leaves dandelion re-growth weak and white.
the easiest material to use around existing plants and trees to
smother the grass.
grass is gone and is replaced by hardscaping, plantings and
- As with any new planting, monitoring
the moisture content of the soil is necessary. Depending on
the timing and plant selection, the new bed will need extra water
for at least two growing seasons or until the root systems of the
plants have established themselves. Using
soaker hoses with a thick layer of mulch 7- 10 cm (3"-4") over the
completed bed helps to retain soil moisture, prevents the soil from
being blown away and contributes to creating the optimum
environment for beneficial organisms.
The first step
to a water-wise garden is to determine what style you prefer. You
can choose styles anywhere from a minimalistic, arid look to a lush
continually flowering look.
- Draw the dimensions of your property with all its buldings,
hardscape, trees, perennial beds, grass area, drainage patterns,
- Note the property orientation (north, east, south, west) wind
direction, influences of neighbouring buildings and/or trees plus
sun, part sun and shade areas.
- Decide what level of maintenance you are willing to provide, as
that will affect the plant selections, number of plants, amount of
hardscape, type of mulch, amount of grass, etc.
- Develop your future garden layout paying attention to the
- Your activities (play area, gardening, compost, storage,
- The best water-use zone for each plant both new and
- Possible topographic alterations including new hardscape,
modifying a poorly draining spot, terracing slopes.
- Microclimates (see below)
your garden, there are many sources of information including books
and the internet that will help you draw out your detailed plan,
select your plants and outline a budget. A plan will save time
and money by decreasing the number of errors made. The following
tips will help you with your design.
- Group plants together with similar
- exposure and water requirements so that
- the plants' needs can be achieved easily; for example,
you could group native plants
- that require only natural rainfall.
the needs of plants that are available in the garden
centers and grouping them in a similar manner can give you a water
wise result with the flower and foliage colours and textures
that you desire.
of micro-climates formed by buildings/structures, trees/shrubs,
soil types and water availability. For example:
- plant less drought tolerant species
that you love in moister areas
- use reflective light to help a plant in
a shadier location flower more abundantly
- grow a plant outside its comfort zone
in a protected location.
You can create
a micro-climate by:
- Using trees, shrubs, tall perennials or
a fence as a windbreak, which reduces evaporation and creates
- Make a depressed area (rain garden) to
collect more moisture for plants; add a liner and create a bog or
- Adding organic or inorganic mulch which
helps prevent water evaporation from the soil and reduces
competition with weeds, moderates soil temperature and protects
plants against the hardships of winter.
- The easiest way to harvest rainwater is
to place rain barrels near downspouts to collect run
- Rainwater can also be diverted to
underground tanks for later use in drought conditions.
- Grow less drought tolerant plants near
downspouts (or the overflow hoses of collection barrels), where
snow melts and where run off flows from
- Limit large areas of hardscape that
direct rain/irrigation water to the sewer rather than your
- Consider irrigation, soaker hoses,
- Watering in the mornings is best
because more water is available to the plant (cooler temperatures
mean less evaporation) and there is less chance of disease from
water remaining on plant leaves for long periods (powdery
aesthetics in plant selection for accents, backgrounds, colour
interest, textural interest, seasonal interest, etc.
grasses that suit the site, as in play areas. Low, clumping grasses
or other groundcover could be used; they look interesting and act
as a mulch to limit water evaporation.
grouping plants with different root types to take advantage of
water availability at different depths, and plants with varying
dominance in the landscape throughout the season to give each plant
the maximum amount of water when it needs it the most (eg: tulip,
daylily, blanket flower, false sunflower).
buying plants in various sizes. This helps reduce the work of
dividing all the plants when they mature at the same time and the
variety of plant sizes creates more visual interest. The larger
plants shade smaller plants, which reduces water stress on their
smaller, less well developed root systems.
weeding and watering the beds, most plants require maintenance in
the form of pest control, pruning, deadheading, dividing and
fertilizing. There is also the task of renewing/cleaning mulch and
aerating, mowing, weeding and fertilizing the grass. Your choices
in these areas will determine how much time will be spent on
maintenance by selecting/placing plants in relationship to their
mature size. Placing plants too close together increases the chance
of disease or pest damage and creates more maintenance. In this
case, transplanting (despite the stress to the plant) is necessary
as it will reduce the competition for nutrients and water, allowing
the plants to become vigorous once more.
stock of what is already present on your property, you may be
surprised at how many of your plants may already be drought
tolerant. A bit of re-organization could be all that is needed to
have everything work for you.
may also seem overwhelming, but you do not need to do your entire
yard all at once... you can start with one small
bed at a time.
Garden can help you make that start!