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A garden without water?
Local landscaper offers tips to create a water-free yard
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It may come as a surprise to some gardeners that a drought-tolerant landscape does not have to be a yard filled with silk flowers and cactuses.

Many drought-resistant plants are already sitting in your yard, waiting for you to stop watering them.

Although he has only had two clients who have specifically asked for an entirely drought-resistant landscape, Mark Fockele, owner of Fockele Garden Center, has consciously used drought-resistant plants in his landscape designs for a while now.

Fockele said creating a drought-tolerant landscape does not usually require a total upheaval of the landscape and installation of completely foreign plants. Instead, it only takes a few adjustments.

"A lot of the people would be surprised that many of the plants that they’re familiar with, growing in their own landscapes, are very drought-tolerant," Fockele said. "They just maybe happen to be mixed in with some of those that are not."

Plants such as Indian hawthorne, lenten rose, loropetalum, many viburnums and Hydrangea paniculata are some of the drought-resistant plants common in the Gainesville area, Fockele said.

"Anybody … who has a garden or landscape probably already has drought-resistant plants in it," Fockele said.

There are other plants, such as Crocosmia, lantanas, aspidistra, lavender, rosemary, nandina, salvia, tea olive and Deodar Cedar trees that, once established, hardly require any supplementary water, Fockele said.

And there are plenty of drought-friendly plants to choose from.

"We’ve just got lists and lists of these drought-tolerant plants," Fockele said.

However, if a gardener is planting new drought-resistant plants, Fockele said to plan for at least two summers of regular watering before considering new plants established and completely drought-tolerant.

"Nobody’s promising an immediately drought-tolerant landscape," Fockele said.

There are other ways to cut water use in the garden, though.

For example, reduce the amount of grass in your garden. Grass requires more water than other types of landscape installations per square foot, Fockele said. "Cutting back on turf is an important part of long-term water savings."

There are some turf grasses that are more drought-tolerant than others, Fockele said.

Bermuda grass, for example, will go dormant in a drought and revive when the rains come.

Still, "if you’re trying to conserve water, you want less grass, no matter what kind of grass it is," Fockele said.

Gardeners can substitute grass with trees, shrubs and ground covers such as flowers, shrubs and perennials, Fockele said.

If an open area is desired, grass can be substituted with mulch, stone and brick surfaces.

Fockele acknowledged the importance of water conservation in the landscapes he installs, and said this year’s drought should change the way everyone looks at their gardens.

"We’ll never be able to use as much water again as we have in the past," Fockele said. "We’ve got to learn how to use it more wisely."

One way to do that is to use water only when it is needed and only on plants that need it.

Fockele said all gardeners have been guilty of mixing the plants that need water together with the plants that do not need as much. The result is an irrigation free-for-all that wastes water.

An important part of water conservation in the outdoors, Fockele said, is to group the plants that need supplementary water in limited areas. Install plants that do not require supplementary water in a separate area of the landscape, creating what Fockele calls a hydro-zoned landscape.

"If we could all do that, then we could save all kinds of water," Fockele said.

And the separation of thirsty and drought-resistant plants need not be obvious in the garden.

"You wouldn’t see it as, ‘OK here’s my dry area and here’s my wet area,’" Fockele said. "It’s all seamless; it all looks like a unified garden."

Another way to use water wisely in the garden, Fockele said, is to find an alternative way to irrigate. Fockele installs cistern systems, or large-scale rainwater collection systems, and said the price of cistern installation varies based on how easy it is to gather rainwater, store it and deliver it to the landscape.

Still, saving rainwater is not a conservation cure-all.

"We can never collect enough water in cisterns economically to water as liberally as we have in the past," Fockele said.

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