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Xeriscaping 101

Xeriscaping 101

With increasing droughts and growing concerns about water usage, xeriscaping gardening is becoming more and more popular. This type of water-wise landscaping and gardening can be used to create a stunning vista that does not require excessive watering, and because it is naturally lower maintenance and less expensive to care for, it is a great choice for any conscientious gardener to try.

Principles of Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is the idea of deliberately designing a landscape, flowerbed or garden that uses as little water as possible and can largely rely on natural rainfall rather than excessive supplemental watering. While every gardener will design a landscape to suit their needs and preferences, the general principles of xeriscaping are sound practices that can be applied to any large or small space.

  • Deliberate Design
    The area to be xeriscaped should be carefully studied and the natural layout should help determine the placement of plants based on their soil condition, sunlight and moisture needs. Thoughtful planning may include creating terraces to minimize soil erosion and runoff or adding natural windbreaks of hedges, trees or ornamental grasses to protect more delicate areas.

  • Prepare the Soil
    Plants need rich, fertile soil for the best growth and overall good health, and because there will be less water to leach nutrients down to a plant's roots, xeriscaped landscapes and gardens need exceptional soil. Compost and other amendments can increase the soil's nutrient level and water retention ability, and plants should be chosen that are compatible with the existing soil structure, whether it is heavy clay or light sand.

  • Group Plants Together According to Need
    Plants with similar needs for water, soil type and sunlight levels should be grouped together in areas that meet those needs. This will allow for more efficient watering, and the compatible plants will thrive without damaging one another. This is especially valuable in the garden or when plants will be hand-watered.

  • Choose Drought-Resistant Plants
    The best xeriscaping plants are those that require less water to flourish, and while native varieties are generally preferred, exotic plants may also be used provided they are not invasive to an area. Plants such as cacti and succulents that are able to store their own water are also popular options for xeriscaping.

  • Limit Turf
    Grass turf of all kinds requires much larger quantities of water and more extensive care than any flowers, trees, shrubs or other backyard plants, and a xeriscaped yard will minimize or eliminate turf. A small patch of turf for play or aesthetics may be left intact, and any grass remaining should be suitable to the native climate and rainfall.

  • Mulch Around Plants
    Mulching around plants helps keep soil moist, reduces erosion and inhibits weeds. Organic mulches such as bark, wood chips, hay, grass clippings and leaf litter are often preferred for xeriscaped yards because they will enrich the underlying soil. Gravel and rock mulch should be minimized because it will reflect heat onto the plants, but rocks are suitable in desert regions where plants are adapted to the harsh conditions.

  • Obey Laws
    While the popularity of xeriscaping is growing, many communities and homeowners associations may still require specific amounts of turf or approved plantings in every yard. Conscientious homeowners will be aware of those requirements and adapt their xeriscaping plans to meet local laws.

Best Xeriscaping Plants

There are different drought tolerate or low moisture plants available in every gardening zone, and some of the more popular, widespread options ideal for xeriscaping include:

  • Asters
  • Barberry
  • Blanket flowers
  • Cacti
  • Columbine
  • Coneflowers
  • Daylilies
  • Hackberry
  • Juniper
  • Lamb's ears
  • Lavender
  • Marigolds
  • Mugo pine
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Sage
  • Succulents
  • Sumac
  • Yarrow
  • Zinnias

Watering Xeriscaping

While xeriscaping reduces the need for extensive watering, all plants do need some water to stay healthy and lush. Xeriscaping does not mean no watering at all, but thoughtful watering practices are essential, such as…

  • Using soaker or dripper hoses for watering at ground level rather than sprays that lose more moisture to evaporation.
  • Watering deeply to encourage root growth but reducing the overall watering schedule to less frequent watering.
  • Using a cycle watering system to allow moisture to soak into the ground rather than pool on the surface.
  • Watering at night or in the late evening or early morning when less moisture will be lost to evaporation.
  • Monitoring seasonal precipitation and changing watering schedules whenever sufficient rain is available.

The techniques and practices common to xeriscaping are ideal not only for landscaping an entire yard, but can be applied to a single flowerbed or a dedicated garden. While it may take some effort to convert to xeriscaping, the savings in water, time and maintenance are well worth it!