Watering the Garden: You Can Relax this Summer

Right now it’s hard to imagine that the super-saturated ground in the Seattle area will ever dry out. But it will, and quickly — remember last summer? It doesn’t take long once the dry season comes. And the last few years, we have even been surprised by some hot days early in the season.

If you are not into watering by hand and have ruled out automated watering — or if you simply want to conserve natural resources — you’ll need to:

  1. Start with the right plants
  2. Use water efficiently

At the peak of summer, few gardens can get by without some supplemental watering (the exceptions being certain types of plants and trees that are very well established, or a rock garden).

Look at the lawn

Let’s start by drought-proofing your lawn. Grass is an expensive ground cover, and if it’s not watered and maintained, it’s a brown eyesore for months. Think about replacing that lawn with a stepable ground cover or drought-tolerant succulents.  Most are very easy to grow and many can also handle soggy Northwest winters.

Drought-tolerant plants, native and non-native

When looking at drought-tolerant plants for the garden, it’s easy to get bogged down in plant selection. Northwest native plants might sound like a good choice. They are already adapted to this climate and can survive a short dry spell. However, our yards aren’t much like the environments where these plants naturally occur, so there is no guarantee of success. And, sad to say, most native plants don’t offer much in the way of “eye candy” in the summer garden. If you are a purist and want a native plant garden, you will find a long list of easy-to-grow plants — just don’t demand too much of them in the way of appearance.

If you add drought-tolerant plants that are non-natives into the mix, you’ll find there are a lot more possibilities. Colorful perennials, plants with interesting leaves, bark, and fall color are readily available. You can see examples of this type of garden, mixing native and non-native plants, in my online Portfolio.

Previous Design Tips blog posts talk about my top picks for plants, shrubs, and trees that do well in the Pacific Northwest.

Designing the water-wise garden

Working with plants on a regular basis for years, I’ve learned what conditions they need to thrive in our region. This helps me decide what plants to use for any application — and, just as importantly, what plants not to use.

Once the framework for a garden design starts to take shape, then plant selection is an important part of making the landscape work. That’s when considerations like ease of maintenance and drought tolerance come into play. But keep in mind that there are many other criteria that influence what type of plants will thrive in your garden, especially in a sunny Northwest summer.

Call us  for a consultation to discuss garden enhancements, landscape renovations and sustainable gardens.














March Plant Of The Month: Lavender

Lavender and other drought-tolerant plants create a casual border. A garden in the Greenlake neighbor in Seattle.

While we might think of Lavender as a common plant, it has some uncommon uses for landscaping.

A little background: Lavendula is the Latin genus referring to Lavender. There are about 39 recognized species of the Lavender plant. Countless variations are available as a result of cross-pollination of those species.

In other words there are many, many Lavender to choose from for your garden.

Lavender makes great informal borders (not hedges) that can be shaped as needed. Drifts created with like varieties look amazing. Or you can put together a collection of special varieties for an easy-going garden tapestry. Of course, Lavender is a standby for container arrangements with other sun-loving plants, annuals or herbs.

In summer, Lavender flowers attract lots of happy honeybees—so planting Lavender is a great way to support our threatened communities of bees. Unlike the aggressive wasps and hornets that come to crash your outdoor picnics, honeybees are peaceful and will sting only if they are startled by rapid movements. Bees keep to themselves and have no interest in our foods. You can happily work among the bees if you are trimming your Lavender on a sunny afternoon.

Note that Lavender is a great drought-tolerant plant and thus perfect for any waterwise and/or sustainable landscape.

In Pacific Northwest gardens, location is key. Lavender needs full sun and good drainage. Once well rooted, Lavender rarely needs supplemental water and is not picky about soil conditions. In fact, rich, moist soils may cause misshapen plants with few flowers and leggy growth. Lavender does not need fertilizer, either. Nutrient-rich soils may cause rapid, weak growth.

If you are looking for a tidy appearance, consider the dwarf varieties of Lavender (less than 18″ wide at maturity). They stay compact, making them perfect for city gardens that might be overwhelmed by full-size varieties that can reach four feet across.

My favorite dwarf Lavenders include:

Wee One Dwarf English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ‘Wee One’)—A compact plant that grows only 12″ high and sports an abundance of blue flower spikes.

Thumbelina Leigh Dwarf English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia ‘Thumbelina Leigh’)—A robust grower to 15″ high with plump lavender-blue flowers and a strong, sweet fragrance.

Lusko’s Dwarf Spanish Lavender (Lavendula stoechas ‘Lusko’s Dwarf’)—Grows to only 12″ with fragrant foliage and thick, deep lavender-purple flowers.

Want to do something special with Lavender or other drought-tolerant plants in your landscaping? We can help. To learn more about garden planning, landscape design and successful plants for your garden, contact us.





Maybe It’s Time To Lose The Lawn

SAM_3841Are you trying to conserve water this summer — and dreading the prospect of a bleak, brown and brittle lawn?

It is not only lack of moisture, but intense heat, that causes a lawn to “brown out” this early in the Pacific Northwest. With this year’s unpredictable weather and a changing climate, it’s time to consider lawn substitutes. Don’t panic: There are some that won’t make your garden look like the Sahara Desert.

  • Keep it simple. If you like the clean look of a lush, rolling lawn, you may want a single variety of a drought-tolerant ground cover. Ground covers don’t require much care or watering. Most need some watering until they are established, but only a fraction of the moisture required to keep a grass lawn verdant all summer.
  •  Mix it up. Use two or more varieties of ground cover and create a tapestry of color and texture. Many bloom at some point during the late spring or summer so they also offer color. “Stepable” ground cover will tolerate foot traffic to varying degrees, but not heavy usage or usage for extended periods. If you require durability in your paths and walkways, stick with stone or pavers.
  • Do something completely different. A lawn can be turned into a water-wise landscape using hardy plants — ones like lavender, that often get over watered in a traditional ornamental garden. You can create a water-wise Seattle landscape using herbs and plants with origins from hotter, dryer climates – like the Mediterranean. Some examples include Grasses, Sedum, mat-forming Thyme and drought-tolerant perennials
  • “Rock out.” A natural-looking dry riverbed or stone-lined pond adds interest  when planted with attractive ground cover, grasses and easy-to-maintain perennials.

Theses solutions require some maintenance to keep them looking tidy, but none of the weekly mowing, edging, regular watering, fertilizing that is required to keep a lawn green and weed-free in the summer.

If you want some lawn for kids, pets and summer activities, try reducing the size of the lawn and eliminate areas you do not use regularly. Remember when replanting those areas to choose plants that will fit the space long-term and that are compatible with those around it.

Contact us for design consultation and to learn more about the best plants for your Pacific Northwest garden.

Waterwise landscape design

Even with the likelihood of a drought in the Pacific Northwest again this year, there is no need to be resigned to wilted, brittle and brown plants this summer.  There are many ways to keep a garden looking lush during summer, while conserving water.  First, by analyzing the site environment, we can select the right plants for the existing conditions.  The most successful plantings will be those that thrive in existing conditions. The less that has to be done to alter those conditions, the more successful the landscape plantings will be.

Water less often and more deeply.  This encourages plants to develop deeper roots and draw from water stored deep below the surface of the soil.  Shallow watering equals shallow roots and drier conditions for plants.  After heavy rains or a deep watering, mulch garden beds to help seal in moisture and insulate roots from heat, resulting in less need for water. Prune back overgrown perennials and shrubs — fewer leaves mean less plant mass to support and less need for water.  Never allow plants to wilt.  Stressed plant are more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.   These simple steps will keep plants healthy and therefore better looking, no matter what the weather does.

A drought tolerant garden requires thoughtful planning.

I like to draw from a palette offering an array of interesting flowers, leaf types and growth habits.  I recently designed a garden that cascaded above a rock retaining wall using a combination of Artichoke, Barberry, Blue Oat Grass,  Rock Rose and trailing Rosemary — all  plants that not only survive, but thrive, in Northwest landscapes. Well drained soil,  direct sun and conditions on the dry side are perfect!   Once established, they will thrive with little or no watering.

Typically, most drought tolerant plants fall into the lower maintenance category.  Many thrive in dry summer  conditions and tolerate wet winters, making them excellent choices for the changeable  Pacific Northwest climate.

Here’s to  summer around the corner and an easy care, beautiful garden!


Michael Muro