Ive been asked why I dont write more columns on xeriscaping. Those folks asking dont realize that all of my columns are water-aware and warning about water hogs in the landscape. I always praise the virtues of plants that require little water.
Xeriscaping does not mean zero landscaping or cactus and rocks, it simply means a landscape that requires very little water application and subsequent retention of that moisture by mulch. The term was coined by the Denver Water Board in the 1980s.
I was born and raised in the arid West (eastern slope, Colorado), where the value and scarcity of water were ingrained in me from an early age. Now that were on city water meters, high cost of water forces even more parsimonious use.
You can assume that plants I write about do not require a lot of water unless they are so identified. I did point out in one column, for instance, that hydrangeas need a lot of water, and notification of that is in its name, hydra, Greek prefix for water.
There are ways, of course, of being careful about water use: drip and soaker hose systems, watering in early morning when temperatures are sufficiently low as to minimize evaporation, and using manual controls on sprinkler systems. If you have sprinklers on automatic, you run the risk of watering during rain storms and/or growing lawns with shallow root systems. Using nozzles that spray close to the ground, too, reduces evaporation.
That water that goes down the drain while youre waiting for the hot water is called gray water, and some trap it in buckets to water trees, for example. Piping it to the outdoors is not presently legal in this state, as far as I know.
Our lawns are huge water hogs unless you have a type of grass that withstands and thrives in drought conditions. Buffalo grass is an extreme example, but in the dry heat of summer, that grass turns brown, reviving to green after rains.
There are newly-bred grasses that are drought tolerant and remain green through the summer. Some even require mowing only once or twice per season, and some contain endophytes (fungi within plants) that are toxic to lawn pests such as billbug larvae. I think the endophytic grasses are not suitable for grazing by animals, however.
Consult with local sod farms for varieties and availability. September is the best time to seed or install a new lawn, so its settled-in by December, the month lawn grasses tiller (grow new blades of grass). It will thus be well-established before harsh winter temperatures arrive, and long before the stressful heat of summer.
Our new invasion of stinky bugs, elm seed bugs, is nationally known, if you search on Google. The larvae of these bugs do eat some elm seeds, but those of us who constantly battle unwelcome elm seedlings think they dont eat enough.
The adults winter over in the warmest places they can find, but try to escape from extreme heat in summer by invading our homes. Those warm winter resorts may be on a south-facing fence, a building or a house. They mate in early spring and lay eggs, larvae hatch in late spring-early summer, then develop into new adults.
They cause no real damage, but killing them releases a noxious odor from their scent glands. Theyre red and black, resemble box elder bugs (in shape, conformation, and size), and may be controlled the same way you control box elder bugs, according to Mike Cooper, entomologist with the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
To keep them out of your house, caulk around all doors and windows, and make sure your weatherstripping around doors is in good condition, no cracks or tears, and the threshold weatherstripping is intact.
If the bugs do get inside, they foul the air and leave mashed spots on walls and cupboards if you swat them, so vacuum them up instead, or spray them with soap.
You can use two tablespoons of Dawn dishwashing detergent per gallon of water, distributed by a spray bottle. This mixture was discovered by Boisean Christopher Ward, a Master Gardener intern in 1994. Some people add a teaspoon or so of rubbing alcohol to augment the killing power of the mix.
This spray must touch the insects, for it has no residual effect, but since the bugs tend to appear in swarms on structures, its very effective. I would not use it when part of the spray will fall on valued plants, however.
If you vacuum the bugs into a clean bag or small vacuum, watch out they dont just crawl out. You may have to empty them into a bucket of soapy hot water.
Margaret Lauterbach: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707