Nation-wide climate shifts occur challenging all to enable sustainable eco healthy urban suburban communities. For Virginians, these shifts have further impact summer as the season of ‘dog days’, days so hot and humid that you can cut the atmosphere with a butter knife. Or, as my grandparents said, “days fit for a dog’s activity – lying in the coolest spot available.” So, the question is ‘what are you doing to decrease the impact of ‘dog days’, keep yourself and your garden cool?’
For many, the answer is to “create a Xeriscape”. Still, this term has been so severely abused related to plants that ‘xeri’ is presently replaced with ‘zero’ and landscapes became the host for a pile of rocks. Well, guess what? Rocks don’t cool the atmosphere! Living green, plants, mediate the ongoing effect of climatic extremes.
Creating a Xeriscape is not about piling rocks, it is about creating a landscape that conserves water and is filled with colorful varieties of drought tolerant flowers, shrubs and trees which enable a showplace garden without depleting an area’s water table or resulting in jaw-dropping water bills. So are you interested in installing a Xeriscape, a ‘dog days’ garden?
Begin by selecting drought tolerant plants that work well for your area. Then, install trees and larger shrubs in such a way that these plants provide filtered light and avoid competing for vital nutrients. Aesthetically, eye pleasing landscapes have as a backdrop taller and/or larger shrubs or perennials. These larger plants are installed as anchors for a design and not only establish shape but influence color. Next, pick colors that blend and carry the anchor plant’s color from top to bottom of the design. For contrast and texture, select plants or décor items which introduce difference. And, because the underlying goal is to create a space that appears cool, use shades of color in the ‘blue-green family’.
After determining a design layout, it’s time to select specific plants. Pay attention to each plant’s water requirements; then, group plants together with similar watering needs. Suggested water efficient plants are Black-eyed Susan, Evening Primrose, Lantana, Lupine, Ornamental Grasses, Purple Aster and Butterfly Bush but check your region’s native plant list for viable options.
To install the selected plants, dig saucer-like holes and mix in a small amount of either organic or granulated fertilizer. Position the plant and backfill the hole with a mix of compost and native soil.
While most garden strategies stop at this point, to accomplish a ‘dog days’ garden, there are two additional steps, mulching and watering. Mulching reduces the amount of water needed and helps keep the soil cool. Spread mulch two to three inches thick around the base and root growth area of each plant. And, because most plants require at least one inch of water per week preferably applied as ½ inch two times a week, more than likely you will need to supplement the natural water supply.
Properly installed, a Xeriscape garden is not simply a beautiful economical water-wise space but a place where as my grandparents said, provides a retreat for “a dog’s activity – lying in the coolest spot available.” For, as gardeners, we have the opportunity to influence ‘living green’. To identify additional tips and strategies, link to TheWrightScoop.
Tips for Creating ‘Dog Days’ Landscapes
• Hitch hike onto seasonal cycles.
• Conduct a site analysis.
• Develop a master landscape plan.
• Create bio-diverse landscapes (blend of native and non-native plants).
• Be water wise.
• Create layered tree/shrub shelter.
• Enable ‘critter’ and ‘people’ habitats.
• Create an eco-chic garden, a space that reflects a naturalist ‘waste not and want not’ perspective.