Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Be My Valentine, Emu

My plant of the month for February had to be the EREMOPHILA maculate v. brevifolia – ‘Valentine’TM.

The Valentine Emu bush is native of Australia and is relatively new in Phoenix area landscapes. "Eremophila" means desert loving and the name "Emu Bush" comes from the flightless bird that feeds on the fruit. The Emu’s natural habitat is salt lake margins, dry watercourses, and clay pans of arid inland Australia. So you can imagine this shrub is extremely drought tolerant. There are a couple of other Eremophila species being offered by local growers; Most notably the, “Easter Egg Emu”, “Winter Gold”, and “Summertime Blue”. The “Valentine Emu” begins blooming in January and peaks right around Valentine’s Day. Depending on the weather, it can continue blooming into April. Evergreen, naturally dense form, extremely heat and drought tolerant, and an Eye catching abundance of hot pink to red tubular flowers during the winter months has made this new shrub extremely popular. You may have guessed that Hummingbirds love it too.

Design Applications: Because the Emu offers such showy red color in the winter, it can really stand out in winter landscapes. It makes for interesting contrasts when grouped with other drought tolerant plants like Leucophyylum, Muhlenbergia, Reullia, convolvulous species. Valentine can be massed for a bold red statement in the midst of the grey-green and yellow winter desert plants like the Encelia farinosa and early blooming Senna species like the Desert Cassia. It makes a great background for Agave and Yucca and Aloe species as well. It has a medium texture and can grow as large as 4 feet by 4 feet. The Valentine Emu should be planted in full sun and can tolerate reflected heat well. It is not choosy about soil type, although it prefers good drainage.

Notice the reddish tinge to the leaves in my picture here.

Maintenance: The Emu is a moderate to fast grower depending on available water. If left unpruned it has a natural form very similar to that of the Chihuahuan sage. However, it responds well to shearing, and can be maintained in a tight ball. In fact, blooming occurs on new tip growth produced the previous season, so an annual shearing is recommended in late spring, after flowering has ended. March is probably the ideal month to prune. Later shearing may expose the shrub to sunburn.

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery says the Valentine Emu is hardy in Phoenix, Tucson, Palm Desert, San Diego, Los Angeles, South Texas, Houston and El Paso.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Over half of your water never reaches your house?

The EPA and water providers across the country have been studying our water use. Water shortages in small towns to large metropolitan areas have forced water providers to gather data about usage patterns so they can find solutions to our growing demand.

One standout in the data is that nationally about 30% of the water that passes through our water meters goes straight to our landscaping. AMWUA (Arizona Municipal Water Users Assoc.) publishes 60% for Arizona. Why is that important? Because the estimated residential landscape water use in this country is roughly 7 billion gallons of water per day. My guess is this makes landscape irrigation the largest single water user in the American household. That has the EPA's attention. Worse yet, the study also show that roughly half of that water is wasted. How?

1) Over watering. Believe it or not, automatic controllers are part of the problem.

2) Deficient system design and function. Some systems just need a tune-up, others were just designed poorly and some weren’t designed at all.

3) Large lawns. The number one water user in most landscapes.

4) Evaporation and run-off. Some experts believe that when you water during the heat of the day, 60% of the water simply evaporates. Watering during the heat of the day in the summer isn’t good for desert plants either.

5) Leaks. A leaking valve can run through hundreds of gallons a day for weeks before you notice it. Some very small leaks make a big impact when they leak 24-7.

Not to worry. I’m going to cover each of these items in a series of D.I.Y. articles over the next few weeks. Each article will cover the most common reasons I see for the above problems and a number solutions for each. I’ll tell you what to look for and how to fix the problem. If you don’t want to fix it yourself, at least you’ll understand the issue better. You’ll be better prepared to talk to your sprinkler pro and you might even be able to tell if he really is a pro.

I always advocate hiring an experienced irrigation professional to maintain your system. Landscape Maintenance people usually don’t have the experience or the training to keep your system running properly. Some of the better maintenance companies will have a dedicated irrigation staff. This is a much better choice.

Of course you can always call me. Landscape Irrigation is how I got started in this industry and I will always have a passion for it. I would love to come out and help you tune up your system, perform a system Audit or replace your system with a more efficient design and the latest in water wise equipment.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Native Plant of the Month

The Sonoran Desert offers us one the most interesting native plant palettes anywhere. Native plants like the Brittle Bush above (encelia farinosa) especially, but also locally grown desert adapted plants make perfect sense for our landscape projects. Locally grown and native plants will always use less water, require fewer soil amendments, need very little or no fertilizer or insecticide, and generally require less maintenance then plants trucked in from somewhere else. A no-brainer right?

Still, a huge number of plants are trucked in from Southern California growers to sell in home improvement stores and large discount stores. This didn't seem odd to me when I first started in this business, partly because I didn't understand the difference. It definitely seems odd now.

Do-it-yourselfers and some landscapers alike buy these plants I think because they don’t understand the difference either. They are available at the nursery, they look good, and the price seems right, why not? The more you learn about plant care, landscape irrigation, Sustainable Principles, Permaculture and of course our wondrous Sonoran Desert environment the more often the “Why not” question gets answered. But, I’m getting off track.

Instead of ranting, I would rather feature our Native plants and some selected desert adapted plants in a series of Plant-of-the-Month articles. I'm not qualified to bore you with Botany, but maybe some interesting articles and discussion on plant placement, some creative ideas on usage, and care would be helpful and fun. I would also love to see and hear about how some of you have used Native Plants in your landscapes, so post away!