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The five commandments in a dry garden

Posted on 03 September 2014.

Growing plants with no water. Or very little... Anxious to develop more conservative watering methods, farmers, botanists and gardeners are rediscovering the joys of xeriscaping.

This technique has long been used in the particularly hot and dry areas of the world – it reduces water consumption by between 25 and 100%.

Xeriscaping ("xeros" means "dry" in ancient Greek) is the art and method of choosing plants and properly laying out your garden to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables using as little water as possible. The idea is to make the most of natural irrigation (rain water) and avoid waste. Consequently, in these unusual dry gardens, everything is designed to keep the soil moist, prevent evaporation and even to collect and recycle water.

Here are some essential rules you should master before planting your first seeds.

Commandment number 1: know your soil

Clay, sand, limestone, water retaining... Soils vary from place to place. Make sure you know the nature of your soil so you know what to plant and how to enrich it. For example, clay soil holds moisture well, but may prevent air circulating. Most plants are therefore likely to lack oxygen. A problem that can be circumvented by using compost.

Commandment number 2: choose the right plants

Choose local species, those that grow naturally in your area. In theory, they will not need watering apart from the rain that falls on them. You can of course add other species, those that are known not to need a great deal of water and are drought-resistant: alpine or marine plants, perennials, some of which are aromatic, certain trees or shrubs, and of course beautiful fragrant flowers such as lavender or iris. There is a vast choice!

Examples of plants that need little water

Commandment number 3: lay out your garden

Put the right plant in the right place. With pretty pink and white flowers that bloom from April to July, the cystus are, for example, very happy in a dry and sunny spot, while other small shrubs appreciate more shade. In addition, group the plants according to their need for water. You won’t water them all at the same time, but by groups. DIY enthusiasts will be able to improve these methods even more. Terrace garden beds, for example, maximize space and watering.

Commandment number 4: improve your soil

Mulching is essential in dry gardens; it provides organic protection and will also nourish the soil. All gardeners say the same thing: mulching has only advantages! A mulch will help keep the soil moist, slow water evaporation by protecting plants from the sun and wind, prevent the runoff of rainwater, limit the growth of weeds... Its composition will vary depending on soil type, and you can either buy it ready-made or make it yourself.

Different mulches

Commandment number 5: water your plants sparingly

Drip irrigation systems or sprinkler systems limit evaporation and help reduce water consumption. In a small garden, you can of course water by hand, but not just any old how!
1) Water little and slowly so that the water does not run off and is properly absorbed by the soil.
2) Do it at the right time: consider the amount of rain there has been over the previous few days, water early in the morning and, if possible, on a calm day to reduce evaporation by the sun and wind.
3) Water in the right place: as it is the roots that absorb water and not the leaves, water the soil. To save even more water, why not install a rain barrel? It is an investment, but one that will quickly pay for itself.

The advantages of rain barrels