The Norman Transcript

May 5, 2013

Xeriscaping and using native plants are recommended

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — With Oklahoma entering a third year of drought and water at a premium, “xeriscaping,” “rain barrels” and “gray water” are terms that have entered our everyday vocabulary.

Xeriscaping, or dry landscaping, reduces the need for irrigation through the use of a variety of factors, including drought-tolerant plants and mulch or rock.

The city of Norman recently updated the list of native and/or drought-tolerant plants recommended for commercial developers and residents landscaping their yards.

Parks Director Jud Foster said the city is working on an information pamphlet on drought-tolerant plants that will be made available to the public. The use of drought-tolerant and Oklahoma Proven species helps create sustainable landscapes with low water usage.

“We’re going to select plants that are either Oklahoma Proven or drought tolerant because they have a better chance of surviving in our climate,” Foster said. “There’s an Oklahoma Proven website of plants tested and proven to do well in our environment.”

A full list of drought-tolerant and Oklahoma Proven plants is available on the city’s website at ci., along with other information on a greener Norman.

The list includes trees and shrubs as well as ornamental perennials.

The Oklahoma Proven list is available at Information also is available at the OSU County Extension Office at 615 E. Robinson St.

Many of the plants on the city’s list, such as Mexican Feather Grass and varieties of yucca, can be seen at the County Extension Center’s teaching garden at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds, 615 E. Robinson St

Other tips for successful plantings include using good soil with lots of organic matter. Some gardeners prefer using a blend designed for water conservation.

Use drip irrigation rather than sprinklers to avoid losing water to evaporation. Water early in the morning or late at night to avoid evaporation loss and stress on the city’s water system during peak hours.

Watering less frequently but more deeply helps plants develop strong root systems. Young plants need more frequent watering than established plants.

Mulch to keep soil cool and lock moisture in. To mulch, put down shredded bark, leaves, fine gravel, small river rock or straw around plants. Using breathable landscape fabric under mulch also can help. The fabric lets water in but provides a protective barrier against invasive weeds.

When a plant is stressed from extreme heat or lack of water, do not fertilize it.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, using native plants makes gardens more resistant to weed invasion. In addition to using less water, native plants tend to be pest-resistant and attractive to local birds and butterflies.

Planting a rain garden also can help prevent water pollution, according to the DEQ. Rain gardens are designed to collect and absorb runoff from hard surfaces like roofs during a rain. Using a rain barrel is another way to trap that water and save money while using free, captured water on gardens later.

Rain gardens are built to catch water coming out of downspouts. They also can prevent erosion caused by rushing water. A rain garden should drain away from your home’s foundation. Cleveland County Master Gardeners direct water from the downspout to plants by putting down plastic and covering it with softball-sized or larger river rocks. Some people run a plastic pipe underground to a rain garden.

DEQ recommends digging a hole about six inches deep at the potential rain garden site. Fill the hole with water. If the water takes more than 24 hours to soak in, the soil is not suitable for a rain garden.

Preventing runoff by using a rain garden or a rain barrel reduces pollution going into the Lake Thunderbird watershed and conserves water. While the city has hosted several rain barrel giveaways, you don’t have to wait to get a free rain barrel from the city. The city has a pamphlet available online at the website listed above that gives instructions on how to make your own.

A new city ordinance also allows Norman residents to use gray water for irrigation. Gray water is untreated household water from sources such as the washing machine or shower. The water must not be contaminated with toilet wastes. An estimated 32 percent of household wastewater can be reused for landscape watering, city sources say.

While retrofitting some older homes may be difficult or costly, new homes can easily be built to include pipes for gray water irrigation use.

Ongoing city projects focusing on Oklahoma Proven and drought-tolerant plants include Legacy Park, the Main Street Overpass landscaping project on the bridge deck and the Robinson Street project plant beds near the new overpass.

“None of these are being planted yet because of the drought,” Foster said.

The city is still in Stage 2 water conservation despite some relief brought from spring rains. Water conservation will likely remain an issue throughout the summer.

Joy Hampton