Waterwise plant misconceptions

By Shaun Moser, Conservation Garden Park

Everyone is trying to do more with less in all areas of our lives. We’re trying to eliminate waste and unneeded work while working toward our desired outcomes. Water efficiency may not be your greatest inefficiency, but it is something that we should all strive for in our homes and our landscapes. 60% of the water that the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District supplies in Salt Lake County is applied to landscapes and much of it is wasted with inefficient watering practices.

As we’ve worked with thousands of homeowners through the Conservation Garden Park, we’ve found some common misconceptions that are preventing homeowners from achieving the efficiency they desire. Too often, homeowners buy native plants with good intentions of conserving water, but because of the misconceptions, don’t end up saving any water at all. Here we clear up some of the confusion so everyone can enjoy greater success in their landscapes.

Misconception: Waterwise plants save water all by themselves.

Reality: If your planting beds are watered exactly the same as your lawn, then your new waterwise plants aren’t saving any water. This happens quite often because many people don’t realize that trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers require much less water than lawn does.

The fix: Water planting beds on their own sprinkler zone, using drip irrigation. You’ll water the beds for longer periods of time, but drip irrigation uses less water overall and applies it only to the plants you want to grow.

Misconception: Only native plants are waterwise.

Reality: There are lots of quality plants adapted to Utah.

The Fix: Check out the plant database at conservationgardenpark.org/plants to find hundreds of plants that are tried and tested to work in Utah gardens.

Misconception: Mulch isn’t necessary when using native plants.

Reality: All plants benefit from a cover of mulch. Very xeric plants will prefer gravel while others may be happy with organic mulch such as bark or compost. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil while also preventing sunlight from penetrating to the soil—making it harder for weeds to grow.

The Fix: 2-4 inches of mulch should be used on the soil surface to reduce evaporation and prevent weeds from germinating.

Misconception: Waterwise/xeric/native means no water or maintenance is needed.

Reality: It would be awesome if that were true—but it’s not. Xeric plants can use low to very low water but during the hottest parts of the season, almost all plants will need at least occasional supplemental water.

The fix: Watch for the wilt. If plant leaves look a little dull or slightly wilted, it’s time to help them out with some extra water.

There are more misconceptions about water-efficient landscaping, and we’d like to answer your questions. Sign up for our classes at conservationgardenpark.org/events or give us a call. We’re here to help.