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Reduce the need for watering

The dirt at Dirt Cottage is dust, the texture of baby powder, until you dig down about 4 inches. There, you’ll find something that resembles regular soil and disturb earthworms clenched in tight balls.

A visitor to “We’re Digging It,” The Journal Gazette’s gardening blog, asked about xeriscaping in northeast Indiana, so The Dirt is taking a stab at it.

You can use it to impress your friends, but xeriscaping is a just fancy word that means doing things in your yard that reduce the need for watering.

Here are the best bets, culled from tips offered by Mary Welch-Keesey at Purdue University in West Lafayette:

•Select drought-tolerant plants, especially types that are native to Indiana.

•Reduce the lawn or water just the areas where your children play.

•Replace some or all of the lawn with groundcovers and drought-tolerant ornamental plants.

•Group plants with similar water needs together.

It’s too late to do some of those things this year, but consider all of them for next year.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do:

•Water deeply once a week, preferably in the morning. A slow soak is best.

•Cover the soil, preferably after that drink. I like to water, cover the soil with newspaper, dampen that and then add mulch on top. Tip: Don’t mound mulch around tree trunks or smaller plants. Leave a few inches around the edges.

•Keep adding compost. Damp coffee grounds from the coffee maker go directly under the hydrangea bush. Veggie trimmings from the kitchen are tucked under groundcover next to the Sweet Autumn clematis vine.

If you are going to plant next year with this year in mind, what should be on your list? Tip: Search engines might not help a lot. Xeriscaping in Indiana is not xeriscaping in Texas or Colorado. You can plant hens-and-chickens here, and they’ll likely do fine. Plant a cactus directly into our clay soil and add an ultra-wet spring, and all you’re likely to get is a dead plant and a few needles in your fingers.

That being said, Welch-Keesey offered a list of plants that are likely to work here, whether we get a scorcher next year or go back to normal flood-and-bake weather. Here are some selections:

Annuals: Cosmos, portulaca (moss rose), wax begonia (in shady areas) and salvia

Perennials for shady areas: Solomon’s seal (which is doing great in my south-side neighborhood), sweet woodruff, Veronica speedwell, coral bell, Lenten rose and hosta

Perennials that can take some sun: Any bulb (crocus, tulip, daffodil) that goes dormant by early summer, most ornamental grasses, kitchen herbs, yarrow, purple coneflower (aka echinacea), goldenrod, butterfly weed and yucca

Trees and shrubs: oak, juniper, rose of Sharon, spirea, cotoneaster

Yes, poison ivy and lemon balm are happy as clams this summer. Don’t plant them.

Anne Gregory is a garden putterer, not a gardening expert, and The Journal Gazette Web writer and editor. Share your garden photos (JPEGs, please) and gardening tips. They may be sent to agregory@jg.net. Put “Garden” in the subject line. Items may also be sent to Gregory at 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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