Diggings logo

WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Appreciating Brown

by Carol Mack

In the heat of August, just as our rivers and streams reach their lowest flows, our yards and landscapes begin crying out for more and more water. Careful planning now can drastically cut outdoor water use later this summer, and still keep our landscapes green. Or at least green enough.

Out in the native landscape, red and brown become the late-summer norm as many plants go dormant. Local gardeners are increasingly expressing their "sense of place" by replacing water-guzzling lawns with native trees, bushes, grasses and wildflowers. But using native plants in our home landscapes saves water only if we respect their drought survival strategies. We tend to want to help out stressed plants by aiming a hose their direction, but if we try to keep large areas of these plants green, it often takes more water than non-natives would use. The solution is to decide carefully which spots will remain green and which will be allowed to go dry and dormant. (But remember that newly-planted seedlings, even the most drought-tolerant varieties, will need extra water for a few years until they are established.) Place most of the green spots near the house where they can serve as green relief for the eyes as well as a firebreak around structures. Non-flammable mulch around these plants will help make each drop count. In the intermediate zone from 30 to 100 feet from the house, native plants can be allowed to turn brown, but they need to be managed so that flame length will be low to keep wildfire from "laddering" into tree crowns. Beyond that, the brown and gold tones of late Pend Oreille summer have their own beauty. Sometimes it is just a matter of adjusting our expectations away from the garden magazine tropical greens to something more in tune with our seasons.

For tips about conserving water in the landscape, stop by the Master Gardener Water-Wise Demonstration Garden at 4th and Fea in Newport behind the CREATE Place, or the Extension Office at S 418 Scott Avenue.

<----previous article...Diggings Feb 2005...next article---->