Go Native! Idaho Xeriscape Gardens Grow in ‘Tough’ Conditions

Learning about plants and soil to avoid plant failure

I liked to garden until I moved to Mountain Home, Idaho.   High desert with extreme temperatures, highly alkaline, hard clay soil with a caliche layer, and often rocky in many areas – what grows in that?  After a lot of plant failure, I turned to xeric and native plants as a solution. I had planned to take the University of Idaho Extension Office’s Master Gardener class for several years but never did.  I’m glad I procrastinated because I did come to love xeric and native plants.  However, if I had taken the class years ago, I would have saved myself a lot of money and time. Mir Seyedbagheri and his assistant Kim Kovac start the Master Gardener program with the awesome class: “Missing Links in Soil Management.”  What an epiphany this class was for me —  it changed everything!

A xeriscape garden project at a city golf course?

My Master Gardener project initially was to plant a xeric/native plant garden at our city golf course.   A desert oasis in a sea of green? The golf course superintendent, Jay, had an area already selected for this garden, and then he took me to two more garden areas that needed work – so I had three big projects to undertake, two of them xeric gardens.  I was going to need some help for sure.

Native plants in xeriscape gardens (Photo credit: Martina Breuer)

From proposal to finding plants

I drew up two landscape designs and a PowerPoint presentation for the ladies’ golf club with the help of my partner, Christine Hopson.  They voted to provide me with some funds and helping hands for the project.  Kim from the Extension Office suggested I contact Steve Love from the U of I Aberdeen Research and Extension Center.  Mr. Love donated a lot of native plants to the project.

Though I did buy some plants from local nurseries, there really wasn’t much available for xeric and native plants, so I ended up buying most of my plants online.  How sad is that!

Gardens brings master gardeners, probationers, and golfers together

We contacted the local jail and asked for a work crew, and they sent over some volunteers.  We also received help from the adult and juvenile probationers who had community service work to complete. . .  and, of course, help from fellow Master Gardener Volunteers and the men and women from the golf club! I had a great time working with such a diverse group of volunteers.  Jay was able to get some compost from the local dairies, as well as some sand.  He had a water tank filled with water mixed with humic acid.  Kids and adults alike were digging hole after hole and amending the soil…or gravel, really.  We planted globe mallow the size of my thumbnail and barely inch-high grass plugs.  We did some weed identification and ended up pulling hundreds. We had fun.

Volunteers return to check on gardens

Some of the inmates and probationers said they didn’t golf, but they were going to come back to the gardens and check on the work they did.  One girl who was doing her community service hours that day said she really wanted to grow some plants, but she didn’t have a place for a garden.  After we were done, we met at a store and I helped her pick out pots and plants so she could start a container garden of her own.

Plants and relationships have grown with gardens

Our Idaho Master Gardener program now has a good working relationship with juvenile probation in Elmore County.  They continue to send the kids over to help maintain the garden as we start into our third year of working together. We again had golfers, probationers, and Master Gardener Volunteers out weeding and avoiding getting hit with golf balls, as garden ‘number 11’ as we call it, has become a hazard.  The garden is on the edge of the golf course and along the walking path, so folks will stop by and ask questions about what kind of plant is this or that.  They may make a nice comment about the garden…..or not, if their golf ball is in the middle of Fringed Sage rather than on the green.

Native plants in Xeric gardens (Photo credit: Martina Breuer)

(Photo credit: Martina Breuer) The garden areas are quite large and still need more plants.  My interest now has increased to plant propagation and planting protocol.   I need a lot more plants for the ongoing project.   I hope to continue to educate folks here about xeric gardening and show them how beautiful the plants are.  I want to make plants available for other community projects if possible.

Master Gardener Volunteers return favor to local juvenile probation office

This year, the juvenile probation office has started their own community vegetable garden, and this time, the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers are helping them with their project.  I was over at the juvenile garden earlier this week. One of the juvenile girls was there and asked me what I was doing.  I told her I was checking on the garden they planted.  “It’s a cool garden, huh,” she said. “Yeah, Emma, it is.” -Blog post by Martina Breuer, University of Idaho Extension Master Gardener, Elmore County -Submitted by Kim Kovac, Program Assistant, University of Idaho Extension, Elmore County For more information about exciting garden projects in Elmore County, Idaho, see A COMMUNITY THAT GROWS TOGETHER or contact Kim Kovac at 208-587-2136 ext.509 or email at Elmore@uidaho.edu.

Xeriscape – it’s not just for the desert anymore

Xeriscape:a landscaping and gardening method that utilizes water-conserving techniques such as the use of native and drought-tolerant plants, mulch, rainwater harvesting, and efficient irrigation.

You can apply xeriscape gardening principles whether you can receive 8 inches of rain in a day or 8 inches in a year. Conserving water is everyone’s business, and as Master Gardeners we should be setting good examples of natural resource conservation. The water we save today may be the water we need tomorrow.

The 7 Principles of Xeriscape

1. Plan and design-create a plan that will help you get the most out of your property
2. Amend soil, if appropriate. Not all plants thrive in amended soil.
3. Efficient irrigation, use harvested rainwater if possible
4. Appropriate plant and zone selection-“Right plant, Right place”.
5. Mulch-reduces evaporation
6. Alternative turf-choose zone appropriate ground covers. Do you really need all that grass?
7. Maintenance-all landscapes need upkeep but a well designed xeriscape should be low maintenance.

Xeriscape How-to Resources

There are loads of online waterwise and xeric gardening resources, here’s a few to get you started.
Xeriscape/Waterwise resources:

There’s even an app!

Last but not least, if you need to find some inspiration. Here are six great examples of xeriscaped yards I found in my neighborhood.

Xeriscaping 1 Xeriscaping 2
Xeriscaping 3 Xeriscaping 4
Xeriscaping 5 Xeriscaping 6

Post and photos submitted by Sylvia Hacker,
Doña Ana Co. Master Gardeners (On Facebook)
Texas Master Naturalist
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Learn about Xeriscaping and Native Plants With the Pros in New Mexico

Xeriscape installed by WaterWise Landscapes in Albuquerque, NM

What’s so bad about native plants? Nothing! Unfortunately, many native plants have been labeled as weeds. As water restrictions become tighter and tighter, this attitude may change. In the desert southwest, we are teaching gardeners that it’s okay to “go native.” There should not be one standard for a beautiful yard. What works well on one part of the country may require too much water and maintenance in another part of the country. For example, landscapes commonplace in New England struggle to survive in New Mexico.

Do you know what a Xeriscape is?

For those of you that do not live in the desert, this term may be unfamiliar. It is a landscaping method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that utilizes water-conserving techniques. This includes the use of drought-tolerant plants, mulch, efficient irrigation, and water harvesting. The xeriscape concept has been misused in the past.

Some thought it was simply covering your entire yard with rocks and, perhaps, one lonely cactus. You can use drought-tolerant plants and efficient irrigation and still have a colorful, lively yard with flowers, fragrance, and hummingbirds as seen in last January’s blog post  Lots of Beauty ..very little water (Sandoval Co, New Mexico).

Undesireable "xeriscaping"
Xeriscaping is more than rock mulch and a lonely cactus. (Photo courtesy: Cheryl Kent, Bernalillo County Extension Agent, New Mexico)

Xeriscape by WaterWise Landscapes Inc. Albuquerque, NM
Beautiful xeriscape installation (Photo courtesy: WaterWise Landscapes Inc. Albuquerque, NM

2012 Xeriscaping Conference and Expo in Albuquerque, NM!

The Xeriscape Council of New Mexico is trying hard to provide education on xeriscaping, water conservation, the effects of climate change on gardening, and to generally create awareness about conserving nature in our own backyards.

The Xeriscape Council holds an annual Conference and Expo in Albuquerque NM in late February. The Conference is followed by a free two-day Expo with vendors and educational seminars.

New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension is involved in planning the conference, obtaining speakers, providing Master Gardener volunteers to help at the conference and Expo in all capacities (everything from giving out gardening advice to selling raffle tickets to support the council).

Please consider registering for this conference. We hope to see you there!

Collaborations for New Solutions
17th Water Conservation Conference & Xeriscape EXPO

Conference: February, 23-24 2012 • Crowne Plaza, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Xeriscape Expo:
February,  25-26 2012 • NM EXPO-Fairgrounds • Albuquerque, New Mexico

Please visit our website to learn more http://www.xeriscapenm.com/ , “like” us on our Xeriscape New Mexico Facebook page, or e-mail us at info@xeriscapenm.com.

So back to you, how might you be familiar with Xeriscaping?

  • Were you familiar with the xeriscape concept before reading this blog post?
  • Do you utilize xeriscape in your yard?
  • Can you give examples of beautifully xeriscaped gardens in your area for people to visit?

Cheryl Kent, Bernalillo County Extension Agent, New Mexico