Add splash of color to water-wise landscape

Creating a low water use yard from an old water guzzling lawn (in my last column) we scalped the sod, installed mounding, placed rocks and created interest with the movement of the soils and the placement of small boulders and rocks.
These things by themselves are very low maintenance but they don’t excite the eye very much. Color, texture, and movement, on the other hand, are extremely important but it takes an experienced landscape artist to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
I love the brilliant San Diego Red Bougainvillea cultivar for this application, but it has special planting parameters you should follow or you might be asking for trouble. Originating from Brazil, this thorny climber loves protected warmth during the winter months here in San Diego but grows like a maniac during the summer.
Funny thing about this crazy plant besides being a mess in tight quarters, the more you water and baby it, the less it blooms. When you overwater this plant, what you mostly get are leaves. When you stress it, you can get beautiful reddish blooms and no leaves. In fact, the reddish blooms are not the flowers of this specimen. They are really nothing more than bracts, or the structural supports of the flower, which in the case of the bougainvillea are very small and white in color.
There are tons of these along the white walls of Swami’s Self Realization Center. You can see the long green canes growing about an inch a day when temperatures ratchet up in late July and August making pruning a regular problem.
When you use this spectacular plant, be sparing in the numbers you plant unless you have unlimited space. Hillsides facing the south catching the first and last rays of the winter sun are ideal for good health and optimum drainage. The bougainvillea will freeze and die in a low wet shady spot during the winter cold. Be careful pulling it from a container though, the bougainvillea has fine delicate roots that are very susceptible to shock.
You’ll know if you pulled it out of the can too hard, the whole plant will go limp and stunt back sometimes never recovering unless watered copiously immediately afterward. Ironically, having such delicate roots, it is one of the few plants that you can cut and propagate directly from the mother plant into moist warm soils.
Placing this plant on a mound in our new drought tolerant yard will splash some color on an otherwise boring moonscape of dirt and rocks. What I like to do is work with a plant palate of three to four low ground covers, three to four small architectural plants, add a few larger elements and use an upper story canopy to tie the ensemble together.
The secret here is to choose plants that hold your attention visually and have approximately the same water constituent needs. Typically placing these colorful and low-maintenance, low-debris oriented plants in groups, I can weave a drip line in amongst them using 3/4 black poly tube.
Using long metal stiff wire staples, we then staple it to the surface of the soils. On the surface, we can install shrubbler sprays by punching them directly into the poly tube.
The Vari Jet adjustable drip emitter is another favorite watering tool and can be shut off or increased by simply turning a knob on the side of the emitter. This is indispensable when trying to water small groups of ground cover in your water-stingy landscape and is key in preventing excess water expenditure and the onslaught of brand new weeds.
You might be wondering what happened to the original lawn irrigation. We simply removed all the pop-up irrigation bodies and capped them below grade. Depending on their location one is left over to connect to the new drip line and is now run by the pre-existing valve. The beauty about the system is that the larger the plant being watered requires only that more emitters be punched in to accommodate it’s needs without sending water everywhere.
Finally, wood chips are installed between the plants to save on water, weeding and create beauty in a natural manner.

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