Dry Climate Plants | Plants For a Dry Climate
Dry Climate Plants
Arid and semiarid regions in the United States do not receive enough precipitation (rain or snow) annually to maintain plants that require frequent watering. However, with the proper soil preparation and plant selection, the use of mulches, and occasional irrigation, many plants can be grown successfully in these regions.
All plants need water; even cacti and yuccas need an occasional soaking to keep them alive and growing. Nearly 50 percent of the water consumed by the average house hold is used for landscape plantings and turf grass, but with the proper planning, every landscape can conserve water and still be beautiful and functional.
Although it may seem so, the object is not to turn the landscape into a sea of gravel and plastic in order to save water. This only increases the temperature around the home, which in turn increases the water needs of the existing plants. The roots of established trees and shrubs cannot get water or oxygen and they starve. An organic mulch, consisting of pine needles, bark, or even chopped straw is preferred over the rock or gravel.
Many plants are available for dry landscapes. Referred to as xeroscape plants (xero=dry; scape=landscape), these plants are chosen for their low-water requirements.
Dry Climate Plants – Soil Prep
The soils of the dry Southern and Southwestern areas of the United States are deficient in organic matter. They typically have an organic content of 1 percent or less. Other than cacti and a few other succulents; grasses, flowers, trees, shrubs, and other ornamentals are most successful in soils with an organic content close to 5 percent. In dry regions, where the soil is mostly clay or sand, organic matter must be worked into the soil.
A higher organic content retains moisture more readily while preventing plant nutrients from escaping from the soil. As the added organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients and acids into the soil. The nutrients are then absorbed by the plants. Acids help to balance the dry land soils, which are typically basic (alkaline). The released acids also help correct iron deficiency.
Dry Climate Plants – Organic Matter
For every 1000 square feet, three-to-six cubic yards of organic matter should be worked into the soil at a depth of 9 inches. This results in 1-to-2 inches of added material. Compost, coarse sphagnum peat moss, shredded leaves, horse manure, or other coarse organic matter can be used. The addition of manure to saline soils can increase the salt level and reduce plant growth. Feedlot manures are especially high in salts and should be avoided if at all possible. Finely ground organic amendments should also be avoided as they block drainage, and cause problems with root rot and salt buildup.
Do not pulverize the soil. Excessive tillage destroys the granular structure necessary for air and water movement within the soil.
Organic matter should be added to garden areas each year. Those who use containers to raise flowers and shrubs should prepare the soil before planting.
In the areas where turf is being planted, work the soil deeply, adding organic matter in the process. Since these areas will only be prepared once, they must be done correctly the first time.
A soil test will provide information concerning which soil nutrients are lacking. A county agent or farm advisor can provide names and addresses of reputable soil-testing facilities. The use of gypsum, sulfur, or other chemical additives should not be applied unless specifically recommended by a reputable soil-testing laboratory.
Dry Climate Plants - Plant Selection
A variety of plants can survive in many dry land areas. To help select the plants most suited to a specific region, determine the annual precipitation and hardiness zone. If the irrigation water is limited in the region, select only those plants with very low water requirements.
Many variations in soil types, water quality and climate can occur in a relatively small area. The local nursery can provide further information on the suitability of these plants.
Select plants that are suited to the exposure they will receive. When planting on the north side of the home, or in the shadow of the trees or shrubs, be sure to choose shade-tolerant plants. When planting in full sun, use sun-loving plants.
By replacing turf with mulch, shrub beds, or ground covers, the total water usage is reduced dramatically. Without the turf to irrigate, the water saved can be used to maintain flower beds, shrubs and trees.
Dry Climate Plants