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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Growing a Xeriscape Herb Garden in a Dry Climate

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When most people think of xeriscape landscaping and gardening they think of the Southwest and specifically, they think about replacing a grass lawn with native plants and succulents.  But xeriscape gardening can also apply to tree landscaping, flower gardens, and herb and vegetable gardens. Let

Xeriscape landscaping is an increasingly popular landscaping philosophy. The principles of xeriscape landscaping are to conserve water by choosing plants that are appropriate to your climate. Appropriate to your client typically means native plants or transplanted plants that thrive in your climate and that do not require limited additional water, fertilizer, and herbicides to grow. For example, growing watercress and lettuces in the Sonoran desert is going to require extensive water needs beyond the native succulents. Similarly, palm trees and citrus in the Pacific Northwest is going to require a considerable amount of effort and resources beyond the more natural Mediterranean/sub-tropical climate for those plants. Xeriscape does not exclusively mean low-water, it just means choosing the appropriate plants for your environment and arranging them in the least resource intensive ways.

When most people think of xeriscape landscaping and gardening they think of the Southwest and specifically, they think about replacing a grass lawn with native plants and succulents.  But xeriscape gardening can also apply to tree landscaping, flower gardens, and herb and vegetable gardens. Let’s talk more specifically about xeriscape herb gardens and focus on plants appropriate for a dry climate.

The mint family of herbs offers some of the best choices for a xeriscape herb garden for a dry climate. Mint (all varieties including peppermint, Moroccan mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, etc.), epazote, bee balm, and angelica are all excellent choices. The plants in the mint family thrive in full sun and don’t need much water (although they are happy to take as much as they can get) and are naturally resistant to most garden pests, including aphids. One of the main concerns with mint, however, is that it has a tendency to take over the garden area where it is planted. While this aggressive growth can be seen as too much of a good thing, it can be easily controlled by containing mint to a potted plant or placing in a pot and then burying the pot in the garden soil to contain the plant and its spreading roots.

Aromatic floral herbs like lavender make an excellent perennial addition to xeriscape herb garden. Lavender can grow to over 4 feet tall, grows very well with moderate to light amounts of water, and gives off a relaxing and refreshing floral scent. Lavender can be used in small amounts in cooking, but is most commonly dried and used in soaps, baths, and potpourris.

Thyme plants run the gamut of size and hardiness but are almost always good choices for a xeriscape landscape in a dry climate. Some thyme varieties spread along the ground as small twigs of groundcover, while others grow more fully as bushes. Similarly, thyme ranges in variety from highly prized culinary herb to medicinal and ornamental. The most common varieties of culinary thyme are: silver thyme, English thyme (my favorite), orange balsam thyme, hi-ho silver thyme, caraway thyme, or lemon thyme.

Posted by casey on 04/13 at 10:38 PM
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