Do you long for outdoor areas that are useful, beautiful and simple to maintain? Do you worry your desire for a lush landscape is incompatible with drought? If so, native plants might be the answer to your landscape concerns.

A water-efficient landscape has functional lawn areas that are irrigated properly and plants grouped and irrigated according to their water needs. Plants native to our region can help with landscape water conservation because they are adapted to our dry climate, and they can be watered less frequently than landscape plants native to wetter climates. The key is to plant them in an area irrigated separately from the lawn and to use drip irrigation to minimize water evaporation.

An example of water-efficient landscaping can be found in yards featuring native perennials such as penstemon. Most native penstemons are drought-tolerant. They are also herbaceous with soft, green non-woody stems. This makes them a good choice for gardens within 30 feet of the home to reduce fire hazard. Penstemons can even be planted within 5 feet of the home without presenting a fire danger if they are irrigated properly, mulched with rock or gravel and cut back in fall as the flowers fade.

Water-wise penstemons are available in many colors and sizes, are adapted to our climate and require little maintenance. They love full sun but will tolerate partial shade, need excellent drainage, bloom in spring and will re-bloom later in the season if deadheaded. Take care not to overwater them; we water our penstemon demonstration garden at 4955 Energy Way in Reno using a drip system set to irrigate only once per week.

Of the penstemons we planted, our favorites are Pineleaf (Penstemon pinifolius ‘Tall Orange Mix’), Red Rocks (Penstemon x mexicali ‘Red Rocks’) and Rocky Mountain (Penstemon strictus). The Pineleaf stole our hearts with tremendous bursts of delicate orange blossoms. The Red Rocks penstemon is eye-catching with pink and white blooms against luscious green foliage. The Rocky Mountain penstemon’s shockingly blue flowers take your breath away. Although we love penstemons, they are not the only native plants you should consider incorporating into your landscape redesign.

Also check out sulfur buckwheat (Erigonum umbellatum), blanketflower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), blue flax (Linum lewisii), sundancer daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis), Munro’s globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroana), prince’s plume (Stanleya pinnata), golden spur columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), tufted evening-primrose (Oenothera caespitosa), mountain beebalm (Monardella odoratissima), Licorice mint (Agastache rupestris), Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), squaw carpet (Ceanothus prostratus) and desert purple sage(Salvia dorrii). Shop your favorite local garden centers to purchase native plants locally. If something you would like to plant is not in stock, ask about placing a special order.

Once you incorporate native plants into your landscape, you will be the proud owner of an outdoor space that is functional, beautiful, simple to maintain, water-wise and fire-savvy. What’s not to love about that?

Andrews, A. and Kratsch, H. 2015, Native Plants Help Conserve Water, Reno Gazette-Journal

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