After last summer’s record-breaking drought, Manitobans are rethinking their yards
Carpets of thirsty grass lined with beds of blooms may not be practical for hotter, drier conditions. Which is why xeriscaping is growing on more homeowners. “It’s a low-water, low-maintenance style of landscaping that features native, drought-resistant vegetation,” explains Sara Williams, horticulturist and author of Western Canada’s definitive guide on the subject, Creating the Prairie Xeriscape. “Grass is one of the highest water users of all plants,” she adds, noting how beautiful and lush drought-tolerant landscaping can be. “It’s not all rocks and gravel!” Follow a few basic principles to give it a “grow” in your yard.
1. Plan and design
Water conservation is the cornerstone of xeriscaping. Begin with a scale drawing of your yard, grouping together plants with similar water needs. Concentrate plants that need more water where you’ll see and enjoy them most.
2. Limit turf area
Lawns need a lot of water—on average, about an inch-high layer over the soil per week while growing. Grass also needs a lot of care, with focus on mowing and weeding. Replace portions of lawn with low-maintenance ground-cover, native grasses or hard surfaces.
3. Improve soil
Moisture-retaining soil encourages plant growth. And organic matter helps retain moisture. “In prairie soils, organic material originates from the decaying roots of native perennial grasses,” Williams notes. Improve your soil with well-rotted animal manure, compost or peat moss.
4. Choose plants
Pick plants that are drought-tolerant, visually appealing and native to your region or climate. Aim for a mix that blooms at different times of the year. Good options for Western Canada include: Scots pine, flowering crabapple, subalpine fir and Siberian larch.
Mulch captures moisture, prevents wasteful runoff and reduces weeds and pests. You don’t necessarily need store-bought mulch—consider organic materials like bark, post peelings or pine needles and cones. Scatter a four-inch layer covering the soil surface between plants.
To establish plants, water deeply but less frequently. “The entire root should be filled with water and the soil allowed to partially dry out before the next watering,” Williams advises. To avoid wasting water, use timed drip irrigation, a soaker hose or hand water.
Though you’ll spend less time on upkeep than traditional yardscaping, you should still periodically pull weeds, prune shrubs, rake leaves and top up mulch, as needed. And ensure your irrigation system is in good working order to avoid drowning or drying out plants.
A handful of drought-resistant options for a perfect prairie xeriscape.
Flowering varieties offer colourful spring blossoms, handsome foliage and fall fruit that lingers into winter.
A hearty evergreen with a narrow base works well in both rural and urban settings.
A frost-hearty conifer with bright green needles that turn golden yellow in fall.
Like some other fruits (apples, cherries), the bushes thrive in drought-tolerant conditions.
Hearty and disease-resistant, the showy variety has flowers and berries to attract birds year-round..