Xeriscapes: Water-Wise Gardens

Throughout the world, communities have begun to realize the increased demands being placed upon existing water supplies. Due to the public awareness, there has been a greater focus on water conservation during times of drought, as well as plans for the future. As we learn more of how we’ve depleted the Earth’s natural resources, it becomes more and more apparent that water is not a limitless resource. We turn off faucets and try to find other methods of stretching every drop, and yet many of us use gallon after gallon, determined to maintain our beautiful lawns and gardens.

Xeriscape is a term derived from the Greek word ‘xeros,’ meaning dry, and ‘landscaping’ which means “to adorn or improve a section of the ground”. Coined by the Front Range Xeriscape Task Force of the Denver Water Department, this term embodies a new philosophy; the conservation of water through creative landscaping and has become very popular in New Mexico and other arid locations. Through careful selection and the grouping of plants with similar water needs, it has been proven that a well-maintained xeriscape can be every bit as beautiful as other landscaping projects, but will use less than one half the water that is needed to upkeep a traditional landscape.

So why xeriscape? There are numerous reasons; a xeriscape can look every bit as lush and beautiful as a normal landscape, but, once established, requires less maintenance to upkeep. Xeriscapes utilize native plants, which often cuts back on the need for soil additives and fertilizers. Many xeriscape plants have a low pollen count and will cause less trouble with allergies and, if those aren’t reasons enough, think of how nice it will be to have a lower water bill!

What sort of options are available, should you decide to xeriscape? While one may think that they would be limited by choosing water-wise or drought-resistant plants, nothing could be further from the truth. Xeriscapes can be designed in a kaleidoscope of colors and can be as formal (or informal) as you wish. Someone wanting a brilliant array of contrasting colors might choose the rich blue-purples of the Desert Sage and Lavender, the pink and magenta hues of the Purple Iceplant and Red Yucca, or the yellow shades of Desert Zinnia and Lady Banks Rose. Trailing Rosemary and Germander provide excellent groundcover with deep green foliage, a soft fragrance and seasonal flowers.

Mimicking grasslands and juniper forests can replace a traditional-styled lawn that requires less work, as well as less water. Short evergreen trees such as the Pinon Pine and Mountain Mahogany look beautiful, year-round, and the addition of Sumac and Sage can provide seasonal color. Water-wise cacti draw interest, provide color and add a contrast of textures and all require very little water to maintain.

If you enjoy watching birds and butterflies, you may want to design your xeriscape as a lure for the local wildlife. Butterflies love Rue, Gayfeather and Leadplant while hummingbirds are attracted to drought-resistant plants such as Coral Honeysuckle, Penstemons and the Desert Willow. Plants such as the Creosote Bush, Desert Mule’s Ear and Algerita attract songbirds and quail and, when plants are mixed with low-growing ground covers, they provide an ideal nesting place as well as a dinner buffet for your feathered friends.

Whatever your choice of design, there is something to fit your needs. With a little imagination, you too can create a stunning xeriscape that will not only make you the envy of the neighborhood, but will save you time, money, and help the environment.

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