Yes, Xeriscaping is a real word! It comes from the root words, xeros (dry) and scape (picture) and refers to a landscaping method which uses plant types and placement to create an oasis-like design in your yard while minimizing water use. The concept originated in Colorado, but is being embraced throughout the United States by indigenous plant choices which suit the particular climate of your region. Xeriscaping conserves water usage, yet looks attractive and beautiful. Read on to learn specifics.
PRINCIPLES: Remember that grass and turf areas require the most water. Therefore, a Xeriscape uses grass, but carefully and intentionally in the whole plan. If you think of your house as the center of your personal oasis, the areas of highest water use will be nearest your home. As you move away from the house, plant water use should decrease.
A final consideration is placement and space. Although plantings may look quite small and sparse when you plant them, as they mature they will fill in that space. To avoid the mature plants’ looking cluttered, be sure to leave plenty of space for growth. You also will need to avoid planting trees and bushes too close to the house and over underground lines.
PLAN: To Xeriscape well, you must start with a plan. Many professional landscape services can help you with this. Keep in mind that if you have a plan, you don’t need to implement it all at once. Ask your landscape professional which plants use minimal water yet have colorful and lush foliage. Also plan your irrigation system before you begin. Irrigation which releases water near the ground is more efficient than water systems which spray high into the air. Drip emitters and bubblers are irrigation systems which work well for slow and deep watering. You will also need separate lines for the grassy areas, as grass need a much higher volume of water.
HOW TO: The first step is to improve your soil. Most unmodified soil is not ideal for a water-conserving landscape. The best soil should drain well but also store water efficiently. Adding compost to your soil will increase its organic content and aerate it. Your local extension office also has soil test kits so you can determine if your soil is acidic or alkaline. For alkaline soil, add bone-meal and phosphate. For acidic soil, add powdered limestone. Begin in moderation with the pH balancing additives and re-test to check.
The next step is to mark your area divisions – what will be turf, what will be bed plantings, what will be trees. Take care to not mix plants with different watering needs in the same area. Now, install the irrigation system. It’s important that this is in place before you begin to plant. That way, your new plants will receive correct watering right from the start, and you will not disturb their new roots.
Step three is the planting! Don’t fret that everything looks so diminutive. With time and care, your Xeriscape will fill in and become your personal oasis.
Finally, add a layer of mulch to any exposed soil. Mulch may be leaves, compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark, cocoa shells, rubber or gravel. The mulch is necessary to preserve moisture, to prevent erosion and to inhibit weed growth. Organic mulch substances are better than inorganic, because they break down and blend with the soil. Gravel and rocks should be used cautiously, as they increase and retain heat. Your mulch layer must be several inches thick to work well.
MAINTENANCE: Xeriscapes are relatively low-maintenance. The most necessary component is irrigation. Remember that the purpose of the Xeriscape is to conserve water, so irrigate deeply and infrequently. Also note that different times of year may change your plants’ water needs, so you will need to adjust irrigation accordingly.
Second, mow the turf areas, but not too short. Taller grass protects the roots and retains moisture.
Third, weed. If your mulch is thick, weeds tend to not sprout well. But if one makes it through, be proactive about pulling it from the base to get the roots.
SUGGESTIONS: The following perennials are drought resist yet lush and lovely: Artemisia, Aster, Baby’s Breath, Black-Eyed Susan, Columbine, Coreopsis, Crocus, Delphinium, Echinacea, Gaillardia, Iris, Lamb’s Ear, Lavender, Pansies, Purple Coneflower, Red Valerian, Safe, Sedum, Statice, Sweet William, Tulip and Yarrow
The following annuals are also great for low water: Cosmos, Marigold, Phlox, Portulacca Sundial, Red Plume Blanket, Rose Campion, Santolina, Vinca Passion and Zinnia.