With the serious drought conditions in the west right now, more and more homeowners are looking to xeriscaping as a way to conserve water and still have a healthy, beautiful yard. For those saying “What the heck is xeriscaping?”, it isn’t nearly as mysterious as it sounds.
Xeriscaping is simply the conservation of water through landscaping, and gardening in a manner that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental irrigation. The word xeriscape comes from the conjunction of the Greek word ‘xeros’ (dry) and landscaping. For some, the word conjures up the image of a cactus-filled yard, but xeriscaping doesn’t have to be only desert plants, just plants appropriate for your area’s rainfall.
Xeriscaping was originally developed for drought affected areas, but the basic principles of xeriscape can be applied just about anywhere. With water now being considered a limited resource, any landscaping projects, from residential to commercial, can be converted to xeriscapes. Xeriscapes are not all the same – pretty much any landscaping style can be achieved while adhering to the principles.
The benefits of a xeriscaped yard:
- Water conservation: In North America, about 50% of residential water used is for landscape and lawns. Using xeriscape principles can reduce that water use by 50 to 75%.
- Low maintenance: The occasional pruning and weeding still need to be done, but because watering requirements are low, the time and effort (and money) involved in maintaining the landscaping are minimal.
- Less fossil-fuel input: Since large areas of grass are not natural in most parts of the world, xeriscapes often have only small amounts of turf in the yard. By decreasing the area of grass that needs to be cut, fertilized, and aerated, less fuel is needed to maintain your yard.
- No fertilizers or pesticides are needed: By using plants native to your area, you can cut out the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. By building up a healthy soil in your yard, all the nutrients necessary for growth will be supplied naturally.
- Provides habitat for native wildlife: Native plants, trees and shrubs can offer a familiar and diverse habitat for local wildlife, adding to the natural appeal.
- Increased property value: A good xeriscaped yard can raise property values by drought-proofing the landscaping and making for a low-maintenance yard.
The seven principles of designing a xeriscape:
- Plan ahead: Identify the sunny and shady areas, and any slopes that might need consideration in your design. Plan groupings of plants with similar water and sun/shade needs to minimize maintenance and maximize the health of the plants.
- Improve your soil: A healthy soil absorbs and retains water better, so adding organic matter to the planting areas makes for a successful xeriscaped yard.
- Use efficient irrigation techniques: Even the hardiest xeriscape plants may need supplemental water until established. Install a drip system or use a soaker hose, and learn to water deeply and infrequently, and time it for periods of low evaporation.
- Keep turf to a minimum: Grassy areas should be in areas where they are most likely to be used often, and kept to a minimum size. No need for a large lawn if nobody uses it.
- Choose plants appropriate to your area: Most local nurseries can help you to choose the plants that are native (or do well in your area), and are a great resource for learning about plant groupings for similar water/sun/shade needs.
- Mulch, mulch, mulch: Two to four inches of mulch will conserve water through decreased evaporation and help to keep the soil cool. The mulch will also suppress weeds and decompose into organic matter to improve the soil.
- Maintain: Even a xeriscaped yard need some attention, from pruning the trees and cutting back perennials to keeping the watering system functioning optimally.