Steele: Water-wise garden can reduce maintenance tasks

Too much water causes rampant growth of most plants, which leads to more pruning, staking, weeding and mowing tasks.

In my last column, I asked if your garden was water-wise and gave three clues that would help me recognize if it was.

Those clues were all bare ground covered with a layer of mulch, plants grouped by water needs, and healthy plants growing in their ideal conditions.

These are all aspects of xeriscape gardening.

Another is efficient irrigation.

Last week, the editor put up a sub-heading ‘Too much water stunts plant growth’ which did not relate to the topic of my column.

In fact, too much water causes rampant growth of most plants, which leads to more pruning, staking, weeding and mowing tasks.

In other words, too much water creates make-work projects taking up your time needlessly or costing you a lot more if you are paying for landscape maintenance.

Another practice that can create more work is over-fertilizing. This can have the same effect as over-watering.

Mulching all your gardens with organic mulch such as Ogogrow, Nature’s Gold, Glengrow, or mulch from Classic Compost will supply all the nutrients your plants need in a slow, steady release over the whole season.

It also reduces weed growth.

One half to one inch of any of these spread over lawn in spring or fall, or both, is all the lawn needs, building up the soil at the same time, something chemical fertilizers cannot do.

Rock mulch in your gardens can’t feed your plants or the soil.

Unfortunately a common misconception is that xeriscape gardens always have rock mulch.

Rock mulch has several disadvantages.

It greatly increases the heat around your plants, making them need more water. If they are not heat loving plants, they will also be very stressed.

A Japanese maple, native to the moist climate of Japan, will really struggle, whereas lavender, native to the Mediterranean, will be quite happy.

Rock mulch will also throw excessive heat onto any adjacent buildings increasing the need for air conditioning.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of rock mulch is the maintenance challenge.

No matter how well you clear out weeds and lay down landscape fabric before the rocks are spread, weeds will grow from dust and seeds blowing in. Weeding out of rocks is a nasty, tedious task.

If there are any trees or plants nearby that drop leaves, spent flowers, or seeds, the clean-up can be a nightmare.

If you want to make changes to the landscape, it is a daunting task to move the rocks and cut through the fabric.

Think how much easier maintenance and renovations are in a garden simply mulched with organic matter.

Next week I will write about minimizing pruning tasks.


The Friends of the Summerland Ornamental Gardens Mother’s Day plant sale is this Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the beautiful gardens above the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre. Go early if you are looking for xeriscape plants.