PLANTING YOUR FUTURE
Every year, the skies over Tucson build up with huge billowing clouds filled with beautiful, clean FREE water!
And what do we humans do? We allow it to run off our roofs, dash through our yards, zip down the driveway and go out to the street to be directed into storm gutters and sewers. Eventually this water makes its way down to the water table where the water company pumps it back up and we PAY for it.
As many requests as we have for water barrels, it is obvious that many folks have decided to capture at least a little of this free water for reuse. But there are many things besides your roof and gutters that can capture water.
Thirty to 50 years ago people planted differently in Tucson than they do today. Back then it was very common for trees to be planted with large wells or berms around them. Another tactic was to plant shrubs and even lawns in a depression so they could be flood-watered. That all ended with the advent of drip irrigation.
Today there are few trees that get a nice big water well and many times plants are put up on a mound rather than in a depression. There isn’t anything wrong with planting like that, but you lose the ability to capitalize on the free water.
If you’re just starting to landscape, you can take this into consideration from the get go. Even with an established landscape, it is quite possible to turn it into a water-gathering situation.
The first step is to take a good look at your property. Walk all the way around it and look at it from every angle. Even yards that seem flat usually have at least a few degrees of slope somewhere. Most new subdivision homes are built with the house on a slightly higher pad and the ground gently sloping away to the street or the desert. That is wonderfully easy to work with. Instead of allowing the water to enter the street, start by making a berm at least 6 inches high at the lowest edge of the property.
If you make gentle concaves where your biggest trees and thirstiest shrubs are going to go, that will slow the water down and allow it to soak in where needed. When the yard fills with rainwater, the deepest saturation will be wherever you have contoured a dip with a berm. The outer edge is a perfect place to put a privacy planting as well as take advantage of your perimeter berm, allowing you to keep as much rainwater as possible.
You might be thinking that you don’t want to have a yard that isn’t flat. Take a look at nature. That is exactly how our natural landscape is and the biggest, most lush plants exist where the dips allow them more water.
A lawn really doesn’t lend itself to dips and berms, so a lawn can be planted slightly lower, but flat with an edging around it. By the time the plants populate the landscape, the elevations changes will be barely noticeable, except on the difference in your water bill.
Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.