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  • Author or Editor: Richard Martinson x
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Efficient water use in urban landscapes is a common objective throughout the western United States. Vegetative species promoted for their drought tolerance characteristics are often included in landscapes designed for resource conservation. However, water requirements of most common landscape species have not been quantified. This is especially true for xerophytic species. This lack of landscape plant water requirement data is a significant constraint on the design of efficient irrigation systems and management practices affecting urban landscape water use. Current irrigation practices often fail to consider the unique physiology of xerophytic species, and irrigation scheduling models may not be appropriate for xeric landscapes using xerophytic vegetation as the primary method of reducing water use. This work describes the seasonal patterns of growth and xylem water status for four regionally native xeric shrub species planted in an unirrigated urban landscape in the semi-arid environment of central Oregon. The four species (Artemisia tridentata, Holodiscus microphyllus, Ericameria nauseosa, and Ribes cereum) exhibited substantial growth over the course of 18 months without irrigation in a heavily modified urban soil profile. Water potential of the four species was strongly correlated with surface (10 cm) soil moisture (r ≥ 0.90), less so with reference monthly evapotranspiration (r ≤ 0.55), and only weakly with water vapor deficit (r ≤ 0.22). In A. tridentata and H. microphyllus, xylem water potential became more negative during the growing season and tracked the seasonal decline in soil moisture. In contrast, the xylem water potential of E. nauseosa and R. cereum tracked soil moisture early in the season but became less responsive to soil moisture in the driest months, suggesting different drought adaptation strategies in these species. Three of the four species showed no visual signs of drought stress and maintained acceptable aesthetics even as soil moisture decreased to less than 10%. However, R. cereum exhibited a drought dormancy strategy that made it less aesthetically desirable. These results suggest that extreme xerophytic shrubs provide an opportunity for significant reductions in water use in urban landscapes.

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