Ocean spray (Holodiscus discolour) is a beautiful native shrub currently in bloom on our hillsides. It provides good cover for ground nesting birds such as quail. Creamy flowers transition to buff-coloured seed heads that persist through winter. -Image: Gwen Steele

Water-wise shrubs make for an interesting, low-maintenance garden

There are many beautiful shrubs that are suitable for water-wise Okanagan gardens.

Water-wise shrubs create an interesting, low-maintenance garden.

There are many beautiful shrubs that are suitable for water-wise Okanagan gardens.

A mass planting of shrubs with a three-inch mulch of organic matter (such as commercial compost, wood chip or bark mulch) will be a long-lasting, very low maintenance landscape. If space allows, a mixture of shrubs could be used to create a hedgerow instead of planting water-thirsty cedar hedging.

A front or back yard could be changed to a low-maintenance, magical place by planting a broad selection of shrubs and possibly one or two small trees.

A meandering mulched path through them, with a garden seat or two to sit and enjoy the birds, adds enjoyment and a place to relish the time saved with no lawn to tend mow.

It is vital to allow for mature size when planting shrubs. Ensure they will not overgrow a path, grow into another plant or building, obscure a desirable view, or be too tall under wires. This will allow the shrub to grow to its full glory and minimize pruning tasks. The landscape will be a bit sparse until shrubs mature.

In the meantime, to fill in, perennials and/or ornamental grasses can be planted in empty spaces. These can be moved to another garden as the shrubs fill in.

When selecting shrubs, choose ones that bloom at different times to extend enjoyment and provide continuing nectar and pollen for bees and hummingbirds.

The plant database at www.okanaganxeriscape.org has twenty-three search criteria such as height and spread, water and light requirements, bloom time and colour, plus photos, to help decide what to plant.

When choosing plants, consider what they look like in each of the four seasons.

The spectacular blooming period is usually over in three weeks but good contrast in foliage colour and texture will give three seasons of enjoyment.

Also consider the shape and structure of the shrub. What will it look like in winter? The database has both fall colour and winter interest as selection criteria. Look for such things as bark colour and texture.

Add in a few evergreen shrubs for winter interest and for the birds.Shrubs with berries or seeds will bring birds to the garden in winter.Adding bird feeders will increase the number of visitors.It’s good to have a tree nearby for birds to wait their turn at the feeder.

Low-water shrubs will need to be watered regularly for about two to three years to get established. Watering can gradually be decreased until they just need a good soak during a long dry spell.Drip irrigation is the most efficient method for this.

To avoid having to irrigate once plants are established, choose ones that are in the lowest water category in the database. This will include most of our native shrubs.

Always take the full Latin name to the nursery when buying plants to ensure you get the right plant.

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

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