Xeriscaping

By Chelle Cordero

February 15, 2012 5 min read

Surviving severe droughts necessitated a better way to grow plants with less water. Xeriscaping is a process of designing your garden to withstand droughts, conserve water and still provide adequate hydration to plants. As we become more and more conscious of the need to conserve our natural resources, including water, homeowners and landscapers are trending more toward Xeriscape gardens.

The term Xeriscape was developed and trademarked by the Denver Water Department in 1981 by joining "xeros," the Greek word for dry, with "landscape." The term often is confused with zeroscaping, which uses lots of rocks and few plants to create a landscape that requires little water. The first improves the efficiency of less water; the second requires little water.

In a Xeriscape, plants often are grouped together in zones so that they share water, and unnecessary or unwanted foliage is removed so water is not wasted; ideally, the land is contoured to promote drainage. Designs can be modified to fit your home and yard while adjusting to the slope of your land. You can save on the cost to water your plants and still allow them to flourish. Statistically, Xeriscapes use an average of 50 to 75 percent less water.

There are seven basic principles to Xeriscape landscaping: planning and design, soil analysis, practical turf areas, appropriate plant selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance. Xeriscapes can host picturesque displays of plants or help grow functional herbs, vegetables or fruits. Designs can be confined to small areas or entire yards.

Planting is done in "zones." Arid zones are driest and best outfitted with native and drought-tolerant plants. Transition zones take advantage of moderate water and use plantings that need occasional watering. Oasis zones require the most watering and ideally are close to areas of rainfall runoff. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are recommended for oasis zones and areas where supplemental watering comes in handy. Drip irrigation delivers water at or near the surface of the soil and reduces loss of water to evaporation.

Mixing organic or inorganic mulch and nutrients into the soil will help the soil maintain the proper moisture. Organic materials such as wood chips will retain moisture, while small rocks will improve drainage. If a grass cover is used, the type of grass employed will depend on the amount of moisture received and shared with other plants.

Warm-season grasses, though not as durable in high-traffic areas, are more water-conservative. Cool-season grasses are best in areas where children play or there is a lot of foot traffic, but they often require more watering. Most American lawns are overwatered. Look at and feel the ground covering before watering.

Quigleys Landscaping offers the following directions for a do-it-yourself Xeriscape herb garden:

You'll need landscape fabric and sod pins to hold it in place; a couple of yards of river rock; four rubble strips (stone broken into strips), two that are 2.5 inches long and two that are 1.5 inches long; four river rock boulders; eight small river slicks; and a quarter-ton of fieldstone for the border. River rocks are rounded rocks that have been smoothed by rushing water and allow for freer water flow. River slicks are flatter rocks.

When creating your Xeriscaped herb garden, first mark your border. Then clear the area for your landscape fabric. Lay your landscape fabric over the area for your garden, and pin it to the ground. Build your border, and fill the area with river rock. Move your boulders to their locations, leaving a space for your focal point. Place your river slicks around in a random, natural pattern.

Put your plants down while they are still in pots, and look at your garden from different viewpoints. It is easy to make changes while the plants are still in the pots. Finally, once you settle on the exact location, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, and plant your herbs.

Native plants are often the best choices for your garden. Ask your local garden center or plant nursery for help selecting plants that are suitable for the individual Xeriscape zones and that flourish best in this region.

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