Last Saturday, I gave a free presentation in the unH2O Xeriscape Garden to 60 people. One of many questions asked was: ‘Can you grow vegetables in a xeriscape?’
My answer is a resounding YES!
To make a water-wise vegetable garden you would follow the same principles/method used for all xeriscape landscapes.
Here are a few tips.
1) Planning and design
Locate the garden in full sun as most vegetables perform best with maximum sunlight.
Stay away from trees as most have wide reaching root systems that make a bee-line for good soil and extra moisture.
Design to minimize labour tasks.
Lay out beds to maximize planting space while eliminating the need to walk on cultivated soil — generally three to four feet wide.
2) Soil preparation
Eliminate weeds — especially field bind weed and quack grass which have extensive root systems.
Loose, rich soil, high in organic matter, will retain moisture while allowing adequate drainage and good root growth.
Well-rotted manure and compost are good soil builders.
I will describe how to make excellent soil from ‘scratch’ next week.
3) Practical turf areas
I suggest eliminating turf from a vegetable garden area.
My father’s garden, in traditional English style, had grass paths that needed weekly mowing and edge trimming and annual edging to prevent turf invading the garden.
A better, labour-saving, weed-resistant path can be made by laying down an overlapping layer of cardboard topped with a thick layer of wood shavings.
After a few years this will be rotted down. Add it to your compost pile and lay down fresh materials.
If not in a forest interface area, pine needles could be used. They will break down far more slowly than shavings.
4) Efficient irrigation
Design the beds so they can be watered by drip irrigation.
It’s the most efficient, watering only the vegetables not the surrounding soil.
Covering the lines with mulch prevents loss from evaporation.
‘Jeff Balls 60 Minute Garden’ is a good book for irrigation tips and many more ideas to maximize results and minimize labour.
5) Appropriate plant selection
We are fortunate as we can grow an abundant variety of crops.
Choose varieties that grow well here and time plantings by seasonal temperatures.
Cool season crops such as spinach and salad greens do best in spring and fall. Summer heat produces excellent tomatoes, peppers, corn and much more.
Mulch is any organic material (e.g. such as compost, rotted leaves, straw) that lies on top of the soil.
It prevents evaporation (reducing the need to irrigate), drastically reduces weed growth and keeps the soil surface soft for easy harvesting and weed pulling.
Mulch gradually breaks down feeding soil micro-organisms which release nutrients to feed the plants.
If you have followed these principles, maintenance tasks will be much less than a conventional garden.