Native Plants for a Water Wise Utah

Native Plants for a Water Wise Utah

January 8, 2024

Utah’s rapid growth strains already-scarce water supplies. As suburbs expand across high desert vistas once dotted with sage and scrub oak, traditional lawns guzzle the lifeblood that was once nourishing native flora. Yet by embracing plants evolved to thrive in Utah’s arid climate, new developments can retain vibrant landscapes while slashing water usage. Through insight into the nature surrounding us, our yards, parks and roadsides become stunning extensions of the foothills rather than contrived oases in the dust.

The Dilemma of Urban Thirst

With Utah’s population ballooning over 50% since 2000, meeting water demand poses challenges even without drought hovering near. The average Utah household dedicates over one-third of domestic water towards landscaping thirsty lawns and ornamentals. Consequently, outdoor use comprises 60-75% of household summertime water consumption.

Much of this irrigation water is lost to evaporation or runoff, wasting a precious resource. And as climate change accelerates droughts, conservation grows even more critical. Exploring native plant palettes adapted to natural aridity offers expanded options for vibrant, sustainable urban landscaping.

The Promise of Hardy Native Plants

By definition, drought-resistant plants tolerate extended periods with little moisture once established. After evolving in Utah’s deserts and foothills, natives like juniper, sagebrush, and agave embody such water-efficiency in their very cells. Beyond withstanding lean times, flora native to Utah’s diverse landscapes share an interwoven relationship with local fauna that ornamentals cannot replicate.

As extensive root systems capture scarce rainfall, these plants provide essential habitat and food to native wildlife. Their tailored resilience to local conditions also lends them reliability with less upkeep than exotic species requiring extensive irrigation. Through the symbolism of their hardy endurance, native plants beckon us to transform our relationship to the land.

Sustainable Landscapes Celebrate Natural Beauty

By adopting principles of sustainability that work in harmony with regional ecosystems, urban landscaping transcends notions of conquering the environment. Lush lawns in deserts represent an arrogant assertion of human domination over nature rather than reverent co-existence.

In contrast, thoughtfully integrating native greenery and stonescapes helps reshape spaces celebrating Utah’s indigenous beauty. Earthen hues and textures paired with adaptive plants blend development into the terrain. Undulating beds filled with hardy wildflowers and grasses become canvas for avian dances. Backdrops of vibrant shrubs accented with resilient cedars pay homage to surrounding hillsides that first inspired settlers. And allowing room for nature’s spontaneous spurts through cracks in walkways acknowledges the wildness in us all.

Through this integrated approach, soil health and biodiversity replace chemically-doused monocultures. Rain and urban runoff percolating into the ground recharges watersheds instead of polluting waterways. Overall, the cumulative effects of such transformations ripple outward to stabilize habitats stressed by development. Yet change begins in our own backyards.

Selecting the Right Native Plants

When selecting native plants, evaluate individual species against site-specific growing conditions. Seek out reputable local nurseries specializing in regional natives like Utah’s Choice Natives or the Red Butte Garden Nursery. Then consider:

Climatic Factors

What are the elevation, average rainfall, winter lows/summer highs and wind/sun exposure?

Physical Attributes

What are the soil type, drainage and pH? Are there concerns like erosion, steep slopes or rock outcroppings?

Biological Considerations

Is the area more wooded or open? What other native plants, animals and pollinators live nearby?

Spatial Constraints

How much square footage and irrigation water can be allocated towards the landscape?

Alternative non-invasive species adapted to Southwest desert locales also merit consideration. For example, California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) rivals the vibrant beauty of any exotic ornamental yet requires little water after establishment. When thoughtfully incorporated, plants from adjacent bioregions strengthen rather than undermine regional biodiversity.

Horticultural Techniques and Ongoing Care

Thriving landscapes artfully integrate sustenance for plants, soil, wildlife and people alike. With native plants, success hinges on proper installation and follow-up care.

When planting, prepare soil with nutrient-enhancing compost and loosen any compacted layers obstructing root penetration. Use plugs or container plants for most consistent results. After planting, apply organic mulch ensuring soil moisture until plants establish deeper roots. Spot treat weeds early before they spread.

Ongoing, occasional top-dressings with compost maintain soil health. Prune selectively to sustain ideal plant habit and structure. Provide supplementary water during the first two summers until vegetation acclimates. Monitor for pests like cicadas that can damage young trees and nurture beneficial insects like ladybugs that feast on aphids.

With such support, native plants flourish with decreasing inputs over time – a process that mirrors our own journey towards living in greater harmony with our environments.

Community Initiatives to Cultivate Native Plant Acceptance

Widespread adoption of native plant landscaping depends on community organization and policy changes. As water providers incentivize sustainable landscaping, outreach programs help residents envision alternatives like model water-wise gardens with neighborhood curb appeal. Nonprofit partnerships facilitate cost savings through bulk purchases of native plants and soil amendments during giveaways.

Meanwhile, municipalities expand such efforts by phasing in codes stipulating minimum percentages of native plants or climate-adapted species in new developments. Local governments can also promote landscaping with functional native grasses that require little to no supplemental water along street medians and rights-of-way. With enhanced public spaces showcasing native beauty, municipal actions speak louder than words when encouraging water conservation.

At schools, lesson plans cultivating native gardens and restoration projects impart future generations with land literacy. Students monitoring experiments comparing water use, growth rates and biodiversity in native plant demonstration plots versus traditional landscapes glean visceral awareness of sustainable alternatives. Such hands-on learning through schoolyard habitat initiatives sparks passion for protecting local ecosystems.

Ultimately though, scaling shifts hinges on spreading appreciation of native flora’s beauty and benefits through neighbors simply sharing plants and stories over back fences.

Water-Wise Gardens Begin at Home

Water-Wise Gardens Begin at Home

Transitioning conventional yards thirsty for sprinklers to native oases captures the spirit of watershed-wide efforts in microcosm. Homeowners can get started by:

Observing growing conditions, drainage and sunlight exposures to select native plants aligned with each area’s microclimate.

Gradually replacing turf with native grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees through sheet mulching beds, enriching soil and planting water-wise species integrated aesthetically rather than randomly.

Installing efficient drip irrigation reserved only for initial plant establishment and unusually long, hot spells. Rely instead on seasonal rainfall once plants adjust.

Appreciating spontaneous volunteers sprouting from aging neighborhood trees as the first ambassadors repopulating forgotten landscapes.

Such wholesale makeovers demand substantial investment and effort. But through patience and purpose, we glean lasting fulfillment from aligning backyards – and lives – closer to nature’s rhythms.

The Future Beckons Towards Connection

In the desert, life’s necessities become crystalline. Where brittlebush and sagebrush not only endure but also thrive, they model resilience under scarcity. By welcoming flora originating in surrounding wilderness to dress roadway medians and decorate home gardens, urban spaces celebrate regional uniqueness. Native plants harbor intimate wisdom passed down honing symbiosis with local fauna over generations. Through their example, we transform hardpan developments into nourishing habitat. And in the process, plants once dismissed as pests prospect our own redemption.

With open eyes and hearts entwined closer to the land, we more fully inhabit our dwelling place. Lawns then morph from resource-draining vanity towards integral threads in Earth’s interconnected tapestry. Via roots delving deeper together, native flora offer a way to ground us in collective destiny.





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    About the Author


    Cameron is a plant journalist who loves everything green and eco-friendly. He writes for various publications about the benefits of native plants, such as enhancing biodiversity, reducing water use, and supporting pollinators. He also runs a special column about Native Plants of the Month on Cameron believes that everyone can make a positive difference one seed at a time.





    Join our Newsletter

    Become an integral part of our community of fellow plant lovers, where every edition is a botanical adventure waiting to unfold. Discover exclusive gardening tips, stay updated on the latest plant trends and answering readers questions on Ask Seeds!

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