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Creating the Perfect Landscape: Water Conservation Is a Crucial Consideration

By Lavender August 14, 2008

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Home & Yard Blvd. Section

Minnesota’s short growing season puts the average homeowner and the avid gardener alike into landscaping overdrive as soon as the snow melts. When the weather warms up, creative juices flow to make yards reflect individual personalities, and make them an extension of one’s refuge that the home really is. With some planning, you can complement your home’s architecture, create a cozy cottage garden, or coax an array of vibrant color out of otherwise ordinary soil.

Among the considerations in putting different plants together is whether the plants are native or exotic. Some debate exists on the topic of native versus exotic, or more accurately, nonnative plants. Headlines throughout the Midwest report nonnative plants and species wreaking havoc in local ecosystems.

Some of these nonnatives are introduced into waterways and landscapes the more traditional way. Animals eat parts of plants that hold seeds, which, after they pass out of the creature’s digestive system, take root, with the resulting plant finding a new home miles away from where its seed started. Birds especially are among the best seed carriers. After generations of migrations, some relocated plants eventually become the new natives.

But animals aren’t the only ones to carry exotic species to new locales. Commerce and frequent travel have created a new migration of sorts. These nonnatives hitchhike not in the digestive tracts of animals, but in ballast tanks, clothing, and upholstery. Once they’ve been introduced, their new habitat may be free of the natural forces that previously kept them in check. They take over their new neighborhood. They become invasive.

However, not every exotic plant is invasive.

Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in South Minneapolis, says, “Just because a plant is not native doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. Some nonnative plants are more adaptable.”

In fact, some plants called cultivars are often the product of a native plant being bred with nonnative cousins that may bring out more desirable traits in the new plant, such as disease resistance, greater vigor, or a more colorful bloom.

What it comes down to in the end, Endres adds, is simply “the right plant for the right site.”

Every garden site has its own set of assets and challenges, but answering a few questions for yourself will make the difference between an attractive complement to your home and a high-maintenance nightmare.

Endres asks his clients to consider:

• What kind of effect are you trying to achieve in your landscaping? Some homeowners simply are looking for ground cover or flowers to complement their house. Others are trying to make a bold statement. Perhaps the backyard garden is the center of your entertaining scene.

• How much effort do you want to put into your garden? Think about how much time you want to spend cultivating the greenery in your yard. Even if you’re not gifted with the proverbial green thumb, you still can enjoy a thriving garden with the right choice of low-maintenance plants.

• To what kind of plants are you really drawn? When all is said and done, it comes down to what you like in terms of looks, effects, and fragrances.

With this information, Endres can point his clients in a direction, offering suggestions for the kinds of plants that will bring the kind of contentment they are looking for within their budgets and tastes. He can put your mind at ease about the possibility of invasive, nonnative plants in your garden: Nurseries are forbidden by law to sell them. With more than 25 years of experience in horticulture and garden planning, he can help you find plants that are good in terms of water conservation.

Busting one of the native plant myths, Stephanie Duer, Water Conservation Coordinator for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, states, “Native plants aren’t inherently low-water. Typically, natives are more adapted to soil condition.”

In a climate as arid as Utah, Duer is able to walk the talk of water conservation, while having a yard full of lush greenery, with a little thoughtful planning. She encourages connecting with local university extension offices to get solid information on gardening and landscaping, as well as ensuring what you want to plant is not on the published noxious weed list for your area.

Wise water stewardship is an important factor, even in our state of 10,000 lakes, where some areas nevertheless impose watering restrictions. On the other end of landscape water usage, what goes back into our rivers and lakes is just as important. For example, phosphorus in fertilizers that has made its way through the storm drain system into waterways has been found to escalate the growth of algae and other aquatic plants in Minnesota lakes, which, in turn, has had an adverse impact on the fish population.

Creating a water-wise garden or crafting a landscape that completes your home doesn’t have to be a complicated endeavor, though.

Start by considering, in Duer’s words, “what plants bring you joy.”

Then, stop by your favorite nursery to see how the staff can bring you closer to the perfect landscape for your home.

Scott Endres and the staff at Tangletown Gardens can be reached at (612) 822 4769, or stop by the nursery at 5353 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis. For a wealth of local gardening and horticultural information, visit the University of Minnesota Extension Service at www.extension.umn.edu.

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