Steele: Plan garden to be water wise

After observing your plants’ performance and the size of your water bills during this long summer of dry, hot weather, you may want to make some changes.

The winter is a very good time to make plans.

Whether you are planning to make large or small changes, I encourage you to review the landscaping on your whole property to create an overview.

Changes can then be made in the sequence you choose.

Last week, I wrote about making notes on my plants’ performances, places of overcrowding or watering issues and where I wanted to add more colour.

Other landscape information to gather before making major plans include:

1. Light/shade conditions—what areas have six or more hours of full sun in summer, what areas get only morning or late afternoon sun, what areas are shaded all day or get only early morning sun? Did any plants get crispy edges (too much sun. or grow tall and lean toward the sun (too much shade)?

2. Moisture conditions—are there any naturally occurring moist areas that could be utilized by more water thirsty plants? Are there drainage problems? These need to be corrected first. For ideas check

3. Wind—what direction does the wind come from in summer and in winter? Is it so strong that a windbreak is needed to protect plants and make it more pleasant to be outside?

4. Soil—did plants fail to thrive, was the soil compacted and hard to dig, did water drain through too fast?

5. Trees—what trees do you want to keep? Remember, they take a long time to grow and give beneficial shade. Deciduous trees provide cooling shade in summer but allow in cheery winter sun. These are useful anywhere. Evergreen trees provide good windbreaks but other than on the north side, if they are close to a building they obscure the winter sun.

6. Where do you have good views from inside as well as outside? You want to avoid planting anything that will grow up to obscure the view.

7. Where do you have ugly views of things on your own property or off your property and out of your control? You can plan your landscaping to hide these.

8. Are there existing natural landforms or native vegetation? Try to incorporate these into your plan rather than fighting to change them.

9. What plants do you want to keep and how much water do they need? Grouping plants with similar water needs helps conserve water.

The next step, which can be done through the winter, is to assess the needs of all who will be using your outdoor area.

Next week, I’ll talk about assessing your needs and making an action plan.

For more information and to find books, resources and classes, go to

My class on xeriscaping is available anytime to private groups. Details are on the classes page.

Gwen Steele is executive director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association.

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