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Wed07292015

Last updateWed, 27 Aug 2014 10am

Potted Desert Garden

California residents are dealing with unprecedented water restrictions due to our record-breaking drought.

Those of us who garden have a choice: Either we can simply comply with these limitations, or we can morally commit to reacting in a way that will help our state achieve sustainability. I, for one, believe we must take control of our water usage.

Water restrictions vary from agency to agency. Palm Springs’ Desert Water Agency, for example, restricts landscape irrigation to Monday, Wednesday and Friday during overnight hours. Fortunately, most desert landscape gardens do not need three days of water. (Please don’t get me started on grass in the desert. Artificial turf is beautiful, and lawns do not belong here.)

Of course, container gardens offer flexibility regarding placement and size—and, therefore, water usage. Here are some tips to embrace sooner rather than later. (Although I am writing about pots, many of these tips can translate to raised beds, landscapes and bedding plants.)

1. Take a pail into your shower, and fill it with the water that comes out before the water reaches your desired temperature. Use the bucket to water thirsty plants.

2. When rain is in the forecast (rare, but it happens … hopefully), put out buckets and barrels to gather as much water as possible. Rainwater has many beneficial micronutrients that your plants will appreciate.

3. If you are gone a lot, don't plant water-hungry plants and flowers. After all, you won’t be around to enjoy them.

4. Plant fewer flowers and more succulents—and consider leaving some pots empty.

5. Use large pots (greater than 20 inches wide and deep). Once new plantings are established, they will need to be watered less. You can add more water to thirstier pots from rainwater and your shower.

6. Make sure none of your irrigation emitters are over-spraying into areas with no plants.

7. Check for dripping hose bibs and leaks in your irrigation.

8. Shorten your irrigation run times. If you can cut the time by 25 percent, you will be doing more than your part. If you have your pots on a dedicated line with adjustable emitters, they should only run for five to 10 minutes—and cutting the time by 25 percent will bring those times down to four to seven minutes. As long as the plants are established, that’ll probably be enough water. If it isn’t, you always have that shower water!

9. Never irrigate your cactus and succulents. Even in the Coachella Valley, they really only need water once a week—and that is only if they are in full sun. Succulents in the shade will probably get by with watering every other week.

I am a huge proponent of setting up a dedicated irrigation line to your containers. The watering-schedule settings are very specific and not as subject to human error or forgetfulness. Irrigation lines also save water over hand-watering. I suggest you use an adjustable emitter. Be absolutely certain that you have a dedicated line for pots, because if you add pots to the landscape line, you will be over-watering your potted plants—and wasting hundreds of gallons of water.

Water is a necessity for every living thing. Save some of this precious resource while continuing to enjoy your garden.

Marylee Pangman is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the desert’s potted garden expert. She is available for digital consultations, and you can email her with comments and questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow the Potted Desert at facebook.com/potteddesert. Get a free copy of Ten Top Tips to Desert Potted Garden Success by visiting www.potteddesert.com/m.

Below: Low-water flowers and cactus are good to plant during the drought.

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