You can have a stunning yard, using little water

By Suzanne Michaels  Photography courtesy of Las Cruces Utilities

Every spring, Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) lines up regional experts for free Lush and Lean workshops - and you are invited! Lush and Lean aims to take the mystery out of creating a gorgeous yard, honor water conservation principles, and encourage using just a little water.

So far in 2017, our experts have focused on: 

• water efficient landscape design
• soils and mulches
• rainwater and stormwater harvesting
• selecting climate-appropriate trees and how to care for them
• selecting appropriate plants for your landscape
• water-wise vegetable gardening

Doña Ana County planner David Cristiani, with 28 years of landscape design experience, urges residents to work with the desert in designing their yards, saying, “You can’t pretend you are somewhere else; we live in the Chihuahuan Desert. Working with the desert will inform what your oasis (versus general areas of your garden) looks like.”

Cristiani encourages residents to avoid high water use plants. He says, “Pay attention to the processes and patterns in nature. It’s important to create depressed areas in your yard to store water, then choose native plants that thrive in wetter and drier areas in the southwest.”

Dr. Bill Lindemann, retired NMSU soils scientist, reminds us how critical healthy soil is to your gardening efforts, saying “If you don’t have good soil, you don’t have anything. Soil is not just the stuff that holds a plant in the ground. Soil controls the nutrients, water, and oxygen available to the roots of plants.”

If you have less than amazing soil, you can improve it! Lindemann suggests, “Use mulch on top of your soil to retain moisture. And feed your soil with organic matter.” Dr. Lindemann favors Class A+ biosolid compost, which everyone can pick up free during business hours from the Jacob A. Hands Wastewater Treatment Facility, located at 2851 West Amador Avenue. Dr. Lindemann explains the Class A+ compost is so full of iron and other micronutrients, it can even repair plants suffering from yellow, unhealthy leaves.

What about watering your yard? Most of us irrigate our yards with quality drinking water that pours out of a hose or sprinklers. But think of all the water that runs down our streets in a storm event – an estimated 16,000 gallons in a 1-acre residential area. Most people look at stormwater as a problem that must be pulled away from developed property as quickly as possible. 

Van Clothier, however - a specialist in water harvesting, stream restoration and erosion - says there is a better, less expensive, less risky way to manage stormwater. He is the founder of Stream Dynamics, Inc., and the co-author of Let The Water Do The Work: Induced Meandering, an Evolving Method for Restoring Incised Channels.

Clothier says, “We could harvest stormwater with minimal engineering. We could be using that water for many beneficial irrigation projects in our community with the application of simple, basic principles.” What trees should you consider for your yard? Talk to John White; he knows trees. He’s the Curator of the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Gardens.

White notes, “We need a wide assortment in our tree selections to create a healthy canopy and avoid a decimation of trees when a disease or insect pops up.” And, he says, “It’s important to choose a site-appropriate tree; you do that by learning the size of the mature tree. Will it fit in your space?”

“Right now,” White explains, “I like oak varieties. They are a strong, valuable tree, with dense wood. They don’t use as much water as you would think, and will probably outlive all of us.”

When thinking about trees, you must think about their roots. Roots do not grow straight down. Most roots (85-90%) are found in the top 2-feet of soil surrounding the tree, and expand out to 1.5- to 2-times the height of the tree. White says, “That means you should be providing water around the drip line of the tree – defined by the outside edges of the tree canopy.”

Rachel Gioannini, a Master Gardener who is now completing a Master’s of Science degree in Horticulture at NMSU, has been designing residential landscapes for the past 12 years. She says, “I think everyone should have some outside time every day.”

“It’s important,” she adds, “to turn off the TV, get out of the house, and find an outdoor serene place to be quiet.” Gioannini’s topic is selecting appropriate plants for our climate and placement in your landscape. She stresses, “Too many people think water-wise means a yard full of rocks and two agaves!” But the trick is understanding there are a multitude of plants that will thrive in our region with very little water.

Israel Calsoyas, NMSU Ph.D. student, is working on her doctorate in vegetable physiology. She led the water-wise vegetable gardening workshop, urging attendees to set up their gardens in a way that works better in drought areas. “In many gardens we overwater without knowing it,” she explains.

In her presentation, Calsoyas noted: “If you go into the garden project with the intention of saving water, choosing cultivars that thrive in our climate, and setting up your garden the right way…you will have a beautiful, productive garden, and use less water.” Calsoyas showed attendees how to set up a simple garden irrigation system using a garden hose. “Irrigation is half the battle,” she explained.

But wait! Lush and Lean is not over - there’s more to come! Spring II – five more Lush and Lean free workshop presentations are in the works April 27th through May 25th.

Spring 2017


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