Wildscape, xeriscape, desertscape, water-wise, smartscape: whatever term you use, it’s all Texan for resource conservation. As residents seek ways to conserve water, native plant wildscaping can be an important part of the mix, since studies show lawn care accounts for over 50 percent of a household’s water usage.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows Texas gasping for water under a dark red thermal blanket of severe to exceptional drought intensity, the third worst dearth of rainfall seen by the state in recorded history. El Paso just recently ended its 119 day streak without rainfall with a downpour of 0.01 inches. Elsewhere, clear skies are predicted through Aug. by the National Weather Service coupled with temperatures hovering around the 100s for most of the state.
Several cities and areas are already under stage 2 water restrictions, with others gearing up to announce water restriction measures later in the month. The Brazos River Authority has suspended surface water diversions in the Brazos River basin, affecting residents in 70 counties across the state.
Texas residents are asked to monitor and reduce their water usage, yet home and land owners may feel they have little control over water use when it comes to manicured lawns and upkeep of green spaces. They may have heard of alternative gardening as a way to cut costs and save water, but may not know where to turn for advice or resources.
Meet Kelly Conrad Bender. Bender is an urban wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife who teaches people how to use native plants to conserve natural resources and provide habitat for beneficial native wildlife. The program, called "Texas Wildscapes™," has helped thousands of Texans realize the beauty and economy of using native plants in their home, office, and school landscapes. Bender’s goal in Wildscaping is to provide the information to people looking for ways to use native plant species to conserve resources at home or in their communities.
“Wildscaping is a way to incorporate native plants into outdoor spaces to conserve water while preserving our Texas heritage,” said Bender.
“You don’t have to go out and plant rocks and cactus, Texas has hundreds of native flowering plants and trees,” she said.
Bender’s native Wildscaping encompasses a specific type of conservation, but elsewhere the general landscaping technique of planting low water use gardens is commonly referred to as xeriscaping. Other names associated with conservation gardening are water-wise landscaping or smartscaping.
Know it by whatever name you choose, but the concept is a proven resource saver for water, native wildlife, time and money. According to Colorado State University, lawn care accounts for over 50 percent of a household’s water usage. The university estimates that households and businesses can reduce their water intake and save 30 to 80 percent on their total annual water bill depending on the size and proper maintenance of a landscape design.
Planning any landscaping project on your property or community area can be tricky, but several interest groups have put together a wealth of information online for beginners including videos and step by step guides. The best advice is to consider your values and start small. If you want to attract native honey bees and butterflies, consider planting sunflowers or gray goldenrods.
TPWD has a variety of resources available for creating native Wildscapes that are drought-tolerant as well as attractive to the eye and to birds, butterflies and other wildlife. The recently updated Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife, complete with 154 photos, maps and landscaping diagrams is available online or in bookstores across the state. A Wildscaping informational DVD is also available through the Texas Wildscapes Web site for $5. A YouTube video on invasive plant species and the benefits of native plant growing is also available from the agency.
Attracting native wildlife with indigenous plants can also decrease the number of pests flying or crawling around your property. Texas critters who naturally avoid human domiciles tend to compete with others who become household pests, decreasing their prevalence in your home.
The Texas Wildscapes site offers complete information on how to get started, from selecting native plants appropriate for each Texas region to designing a Wildscape garden. Whether you are planning a project for your backyard or a clay pot on your windowsill, the Texas Wildscapes book, DVD or can show the way.