Water-wise Plants

Oregon Grape Holly

Golden leaves glisten with frost this morning.  Fall has arrived.  Though it seems like the time to be tucking the garden and flower beds in for the winter, it is also an ideal time to plant shrubs, trees, and perennials. A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the landscaping that will take place at Desert Rain when the major structure construction is completed.  The landscape challenges at Desert Rain are common throughout Central Oregon; poor soil, rock outcroppings, and scarce water. In addition to those limitations, the high desert creates severe temperature fluctuations. Hot days can quickly turn to below freezing nights. Summers are quite warm and very dry. Winters can bring bitter cold winds and marginal precipitation. It takes hardy, tough, tenacious plants to adapt and thrive here.

Great Reading! Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary Ronald J. Taylor Plants that can withstand the extremes


Wild Strawberry is an excellent low-water ground cover.

Buckwheat – many varieties of buckwheat all well adapted to poor soils, hot sun, and minimal water.

While growing conditions in Bend, Oregon may be harsh, it is time for all of us to think about landscape changes that minimize water use.  According to the NOAA climatic data site, based on the Palmer Drought Index, about 55 percent of the contiguous U.S. fell in the moderate to extreme drought categories at the end of August this year (2012).  That may be incentive to exchange the water- guzzling, green, grass lawns for water-conserving, drought-tolerant plantings.

Desert Rain’s landscape designers, Chris Hart-Henderson and Ani Cahill with Heartsprings Design, (Heartsprings Design)use hardy, locally proven, long-blooming, native and drought tolerant plants in their designs.  Since there will be minimal irrigation water available at Desert Rain, the plant legend reflects choices that, once established, will survive and thrive on little water.  The Desert Rain site has existing vegetation that includes some native plant species. Those plants are thriving in the rock outcropping on the west side of the property.  The Living Building Challenge requires that 35% of the landscape plants must be edible. In addition, the LEED requirement is for 80% of the plants to be native. It has been a challenging process for Chris and Ani to create an atmosphere and visually appealing landscape with the requirements for certification and with the restrictions of climate and site.  For Barb and Tom, a big part of Desert Rain has been sharing the information that is being learned in the design and building process.  In that spirit, I am sharing the plant list here.  Take advantage of these beautiful fall days and get a growing start on a water-wise landscape.

Serviceberry is a large, variable size shrub. It has fragrant white flowers in the spring and bears a juicy, bluish-purple fruit that makes flavorful jellies and pies. It is an excellent food source for birds and other animals.

Lavendar hidcote – aromatic, colorful, very hardy and requires minimal water.


Woods Rose – hardy and drought tolerant

These plants are adapted to the regional, high desert terrain of central Oregon.  List uses ‘common’ plant names. Check your local nursery for native and drought-tolerant plants.

Native Fescue wildflower meadow area may include:
Idaho Fescue, Blue Flax, Oregon Sunshine, Showy or Lowly Penstemon, Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Orange Globemallow, Desert Lupine, and Sulphur Buckwheat.


Shrubby Penstemon

Dryland Areas:  Mix of native grasses and shrubs that may include:
Sagebrush, Mountain Mahogany, Rabbitbrush, Wax Currant, Idaho Fescue, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Blue Flax and other native wildflowers.

Pussytoes as groundcover.

Ground cover: Sedum Album, Sedum Acre, Pussytoes, Mixed Sempervivuvis and Wild Strawberry.

Perennials:  Catmint, Lavendar, Shrubby or Davidson’s Penstemon, Yucca, creeping Oregon Grape, Oregon Grape Holly, Woods Rose, Yucca

Walker’s Low Catmint – tough, colorful, and not very thirsty.


Trees and Larger shrubs:
Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Sub-alpine fir, or Murryana Pine, Native Chokecherry, Manzanita

Sub-alpine fir – slow growing, drought -tolerant evergreen




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