Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Adding Shade and Moisture in a Dryer Climate

Nevada holds cast, dry lands and the Las Vegas area is one of the driest regions of them all in that state. Receiving an annual average 4 inches of rainfall and 80 inches of water loss as a direct result of evaporation, Las Vegas areas truly experience the most extreme hot and cold temperatures.

We need specially adapted plants there, but Southern Nevada uses nearly 60 percent of its water on non-native plants in home landscapes, so it may be time for a change to native plants. The tips in this article can be used anywhere that the soil tends to be dry and/or the summer heat is very warm to extremely hot. The information and suggestions will bring additional moisture to your landscaping all year around, along with welcomed shade and comfort.

Consider these things before choosing landscape trees and plants for your yard or grounds:

1. Know your local climate - Attend to the temperatures, rainfall, etc.
2. Know your soil - Is it acid? Sandy? Loamy?
3. Know your local water situation. - Do you need irrigation?
4. Choose plants bred for your local climate and soil, preferably native plants.
5. Choose plants that conserve water and reduce water run off that leads to erosion.
5. Plant correctly, providing adequate follow-up care.

Next, think about ways to plan shade and moisture reserves when watering is prohibited in the hottest part of the summer:

1. Porous materials soak water into the ground, so you can use bricks, mulched pathways, and porous stepping stones and driveway materials.
2. Plant shade trees and use trellises and vines on west and south sides of your house.
3. Dig plant beds lower than lawn surfaces and mulch to hold water.
4. Use rain barrels -a summer storm can produce a lot at once. Moreover, short rain barrels can be attractive and you might float a water lily or even floating candles for summer nights.
5. Keep water accessories practical, such as recirculating fountains that conserve water.

Next, walk your property and cover every corner and inch of it and make mental notes. In addition, draw a sketch of it and include trees, plants, and barrels to catch rain from roofs and down spouts. Remember to leave room between plants to grow.

Mulch is manufactured in earth tones and porous stones come in gray, brown, red and black. Repeat your colors in a bench and a patio table top of granite, marble, tile or artificial stone for a cool place to enjoy your landscape.

Choose fast-growing shade trees that thrive in full sun and a variety of soils.

The American Sycamore is good for its visual splendor and growth rate up to 6 feet per year. Adaptable to most soils and climates, its large green leaves turn golden brown in autumn, reaching up to 70 feet tall and 50 feet wide at maturity. Producing white bark in the winter, it is attractive throughout the year and at about $20-25, it is a good buy. Find a nursery that has a replacement guarantee on its trees and you can plant with confidence.

Other good choices include the brilliant Red Rocket Crape Myrtle that will reach 30 by 15 feet. It produces dark red blooms for 100 days a year and is highly drought resistant. Red Maples are adaptable to many soils and climates, with red blooms in spring. They reach 60 x 40 feet and grow up to 3 feet per year.

Royal Paulownia is the fastest growing tree, with up to 12 feet of growth the first year. Its fragrant lavender spring flowers are fresh and beautiful. Another good choice is the Empress Tree that can grow in drought and thrive in even diseased soils. Reaching 50 x 40 feet, it is almost impossible to kill. If you like yellow, choose the Tulip Poplar with its yellow blossoms and fragrant nectar to bring aroma to your landscape. It reaches 90 x 50 feet. All of these are similar in price to the American Sycamore.

Prairie grasses add interesting visuals as well as shade. Easy to maintain perennials, they crowd out weeds and like hot, dry weather; so watering is unnecessary except when young. Attracting birds and butterflies, some choice grasses in blues, greens, and burgundies reaching 2 feet to 20 feet high are Little Bluestem, Shenandoah Switch Grass, Variegated Miscanthus (Morning Light), Northern Pampas Grass, Indian Grass, and Heavy Metal Switch Grass. They cost about $10 for a 3.5" pot or $20 for a gallon container.

Finally, to conserve water reserves even more fully, water-holding ground cover will spread 2 feet and more. These include the lovely greens, yellows and purples of Oriental Limelight Artemisia Hybrid, Silver Mound Artemisia schmidtiana, and Purple Wintercreeper Euonymus that spreads 20 feet wide. All of these are quite attractive and easy to maintain. They are similar in cost to the prairie grasses mentioned above.

Even during the hottest summer in the Sagebrush State or other dry lands in the US, we don't need to be as hot and barren as the desert around Area 51 in August! You can add shade and moisture with colorful fast-growing shade trees, prairie grasses, ground cover, and porous and/or cool stone accessories. So have fun! And remember - A hat, long sleeves, loose plant legs, drinking water, and sun block are a good defense against sunburn and heat stroke. Stay cool in your shady landscape next summer and have fun planning it now!

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