Xeriscaping is a water-saving approach to landscaping. Plants whose natural requirements are appropriate to the local climate are emphasized, and care is taken to avoid losing water to evaporation and run-off. Xeriscaping is not the same as ‘zeroscaping’ in which the landscape consists mostly of concrete, stones or gravel, and perhaps a few cacti. While cacti and succulents may have a place in some drought-tolerant gardens, they are not the only alternatives.
There are numerous advantages to xeriscaping. In the long run, your water bill will be significantly less. Landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants conserves water and reduces yard or garden waste. You will have less maintenance to perform in the garden as well as in the yard, including little or no mowing. Within the xeriscaping yard, there may be minimal lawn areas, limited only to drought-tolerant grasses, such as tall fescue mixes. The rest of the landscape usually consists of various beds and borders filled with water-efficient, ornamental plants. Xeriscapes also require less fertilizer and fewer pest control measures than traditional landscapes.
Xeriscaping begins with the appropriate selection and arrangement of plants. These should include those which are native to your area as well as those that are drought tolerant. Careful planning beforehand is always important, whether it’s an existing landscape or a new one. Select plants for the growing conditions in a given area when planning and designing the xeriscape. Choose plants that are compatible with the type of exposure they will receive. For instance, on northern-facing sides of the xeriscape, choose plants that tolerate shade. Spring-flowering bulbs are well suited for xeriscaping as well. These grow during the spring and fall seasons when it is cooler and the ground is moist. During the hot summer season, the bulbs are dormant. Proper grouping of plants is important when xeriscaping.
Create a site that groups plants according to similar watering needs. Grouping plants with similar watering needs allows them to be watered on an as needed basis with less water waste. By planting high-water-use plants separate from low-water-use plants you can regulate watering needs more easily. For instance, garden vegetables might be found growing in a designated bed or border with flowers and herbs sharing the same watering requirements. To further decrease the need for watering, these plants may also be sheltered from wind exposure and located in areas with less sunlight. Drought-tolerant plants, on the other hand, might be found growing together in another area of the xeriscape. Always factor in each plant’s size, shape, color, texture, foliage and blooming period to create visual interest.
Soil amended with compost retains water better, drains easier, and provides additional nutrients as well. Properly mulching an area lowers the soil temperature and decreases the loss of moisture due to evaporation. Mulch also discourages weeds. In addition to creating texture in the landscape, organic mulches decay, adding nutrients to the soil as well. And healthy soils grow healthy plants. A well-drained soil entices plants and trees to set deeper roots, further enabling them to withstand drought-like conditions.
More efficient watering practices are used with xeriscaping. The least efficient watering system is the sprinkler. It may deliver a large amount of water in a short period, but it loses excessive amounts of moisture to evaporation. Low-volume trickle or drip irrigators and soaker hoses deliver moisture over a longer period, losing little water to evaporation or runoff and saturating the ground more effectively. Plants will actually appreciate this infrequent deep watering over more frequent shallow watering. Water is also applied in the morning or evening, when it is less likely to be blown away by wind or lost by evaporation. By providing water in moderation and only to areas of the landscape requiring moisture, excessive plant and weed growth can be avoided. Drought-tolerant plants get no more water than they need. Keep in mind, too, that north and east-facing sites require less frequent watering than south and west-facing areas.
By carefully preparing and meeting plant requirements, a xeriscaping gardener can develop a landscape full of color and texture, while reducing water requirements.