Xeriscaping Principles: How to Get Started



If you live in a semi-arid or arid region, chances are you’re already familiar with xeriscaping and how it works – even if you haven’t heard the word before. Derived from the Greek word “xeros” which means “dry”, xeriscaping has been defined as the practice of designing or creating landscapes that need little to no water than what the natural climate ordinarily provides. It could also be said to mean the practice of gardening and landscaping with the conservation of water in mind. The term “xeriscape” was coined in the late ‘70s by Denver Water and during a difficult drought that lasted through the 1970s.

The idea behind xeriscaping simply involves using as many native drought-resistant substances as possible and having them arranged in efficient and water-saving ways. To explain better, the philosophy behind xeriscaping involves using rocks and cacti instead of native flowers and grass.

While many people are still in the dark about xeriscaping and how it impacts the environment, its growing popularity is certainly a good sign.

Benefits of Xeriscaping

With more cities currently facing the risk of water shortages in the next couple of years, there’s every need to conserve water which is one of our most precious resources. Xeriscaping as a practice was designed not just to create landscapes but to create them while conserving water. While this idea gained traction in some of the dry regions, it looks different from one city to another depending on climate and weather conditions.

Are you currently thinking of implementing this helpful strategy in your community? Are you still having doubts? There are actually a couple of benefits xeriscaping provides and in this section, we’ll share some of them.

Reduces maintenance

Basically, maintaining a turf-rich environment is hard work, and you’d need to work diligently. For example, if there are constant or frequent rainfalls, you’d need to cut the grass more often. If, on the other hand, it doesn’t rain, you will also need to work harder than normal to keep them alive. Regardless of the weather condition, one thing is constant – you need to work hard to maintain your lawn.

This is completely different from xeriscaping. Since you are focused on planting items that are known to thrive naturally in a particular region, maintenance is minimal. With xeriscaping, water requirements become low, all you’d need to do is weed the grass as well as the occasional pruning.

It reduces water waste

According to various reports, over 50% of water usage goes towards lawn and landscaping. Surprisingly, xeriscaping is capable of reducing water waste 50-75%.

It reduces the use of fertilizer

One of the main benefits of making use of natural plants and planting them in regions or areas where they would thrive naturally is that there would be no need for artificial fertilizers or supplements to help in growth. This is why xeriscaping is so good.

The only supplement you need is organic soil, and it will help maintain a healthy xeriscaped landscape.

It helps save you money

Ordinarily, you would have to spend money getting fertilizers and other artificial supplements to help in the growth of your plants. Also, money would be spent on proper maintenance in case there are frequent rainfalls. These costs can be cut in half with the practice of xeriscaping.

With xeriscaping, you do not need to spend time and money maintaining or hiring a laborer to get the job done. You are able to save up funds that could be put to other use.

Reduces pollution

Xeriscaping involves the practice of creating landscapes, this simply means that acres of sod will be removed in the process. By doing this you are indirectly helping the environment by reducing the need for gas-powered mowers. Aside from helping the environment, you are also reducing pollution. Your neighbors would no longer have to wake up to the sound of lawnmowers each morning.

Property value increases

Generally, good landscaping has been identified to increase the value of properties, especially when you opt for xeriscaping. While most people would argue that xeriscaping may be expensive, the increase in commercial property value definitely outweighs the current cost.

Principles of Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is that ultimate solution to lush and beautiful landscapes that need little or no water and are capable of withstanding some of the harshest weather conditions. This practice can only be achieved based on these principles.

Planning and Design

The first principle of xeriscaping is planning and design. To get started, you need to think about how your property will be used as well as the many features it should have. For instance, you may decide to have a shed, a patio, a vegetable garden, or even a butterfly garden. You also need to point out where pathways will cut across to and how much sun each of the areas will receive. You will need to carefully plan before you can xeriscape.

Once you have successfully planned out everything, even the tiniest details, the next step would be to get to the design process. The design could just be a scale drawing of your property, the features, and other aspects you want in it. To get an idea of what the final design would look like, a tracing paper could just be the best tool to try your ideas on. This will not only help you envision the project in its entirety, but it will also help you locate the various features of the property at the same time laying a framework or sequence to begin work on.

Efficient Irrigation

Irrigation has proven to be beneficial in xeriscaping especially in the first couple of years when the roots of the plants are still developing. Even after the plant root has been established or firmly rooted in the ground, irrigation may still be necessary depending on the needs of the plant as well as the landscape design. An example of this is certain parts of New Mexico where landscapes will need irrigation for the entire lifespan of the plant.

While the moderate water zones and oasis will generally need irrigation more, it is important that you make plans for Irrigation in the low water zones as well. Regardless of the irrigation system, it is needed. It is a foundation on which planting is designed irrespective of the zone. While irrigation is important, it is equally important that it is carried out efficiently. Subsurface drip systems over time have proven to be the best way to irrigate turf areas without wasting much water. Unlike the popular sprinkler system, this system is capable of saving up to 50% of the water.

Efficient irrigation as a principle of xeriscaping basically involves applying water where it is needed, not where it will be wasted.

Mulch Usage

Generally, mulch provides cover over the soil which indirectly reduces evaporation in the process of moderating soil temperature. It is also capable of reducing weed growth, thereby reducing competition for nutrients and water which has become common in most gardens or landscapes. Currently, there is an array of landscape mulches available. They come in different sizes, offer different uses, and have been built for various weather conditions or climates

Impermeable mulch which is currently one of the most common landscape mulches has been misused time and again. This mulch should be used primarily in areas where the soil needs to be kept dry. For instance, it should be placed next to a foundation where termiticides have been applied or even in areas where harvested water is channeled to other areas. If you are unable to use this mulch accurately, other mulches would suffice. For example, the permeable weed barrier and some of the other mulches allow water and oxygen to reach the roots of the plant faster than you may think.

Organic mulches are not entirely bad as well. They are capable of keeping the soil moist at the same time reflecting less heat. Surprisingly, these organic mulches happen to work well on plants that have adapted to microclimates. While the mulch you should make use of will depend on various factors, it is important that you use one.

Soil Preparation

This is another important part of xeriscaping and landscaping. Before planting, it is advised that you carry out soil testing.

  • Soil testing helps you know which plants are capable of adapting to this site
  • It also shows which of the soil amendments are ideal for the soil for each of the selected plants.

There are different ways to prepare soil based on the current zones. To prepare the soil in low water zones, you simply need to rototill to loosen up the soil as well as reduce the soil compaction associated with the previous building or construction. For moderate water zones or oasis, you simply need to add compost to increase the water holding capacity of the soil.

Taking appropriate measures to loosen the soil has been identified to be of immense help in the development of roots and also allowing for better and faster infiltration of water and air needed by these plants to survive. Since soil disturbance results in the growth of weed, it is advised that you limit rototilling to only parts or areas you plan on planting seeds on.

Appropriate Turf

Turf can play an important role in landscapes, even xeriscaping projects. While it may require that you frequently take care of it more than any of the other plants, it happens to be quite easy to maintain. Aside from being a perfect or ideal playing ground for kids, it is an excellent cooling element capable of preventing glare from the sun and reducing erosion. While other plants are capable of performing these functions mentioned, the difference is turf provides a suitable playing area.

Before you decide to xeriscape, you need to find the appropriate turf. This will include taking the time to carefully evaluate the size of the turf in all entirety, the seasons it would be used most, and how it should be used. Once you have done that, you may decide to reduce the limit to certain parts and also determine which of the grasses will better serve your needs. There are a couple of grass types you can use as turfgrasses: cool-season grass, Kentucky bluegrass, bermudagrass, and even ornamental grasses.

It is important that you choose the best plant for each of the areas. Also, you need to carefully write down your needs and state the particular plant that is capable of meeting that specific need.

Water-Efficient Plants

Currently, there is an increase in plants that require less water. While you may decide to make use of some of the common plants for moderate water zones, there are various beautiful, colorful, and sweet-smelling plants that you can use for low water zones.

Root systems should be effectively done to ensure that the plants are able to gather the right amount of water needed for growth.

Proper Maintenance

Maintenance is of so much importance in almost every area of life, this goes for xeriscape too. While most gardeners love spending time on their gardens and see it as a way to relax after a long day’s work, some do not have that time to properly maintain it. If you fall under the former or latter, one thing you should remember is that the garden will always determine how much maintenance or work is done on it.

While any garden will require that you spend time pruning, removing weeds, or carrying out any other maintenance practices, xeriscape landscapes will require minimal maintenance. Basically, you need to properly maintain your garden if you want the plants to grow and not have to compete for nutrients.

Dos and Don’ts of Xeriscaping

Like every other concept, there are best practices that should be followed if you want to achieve success. This goes for xeriscape as well. There are actually a couple of things you should and should not do if you want to perfectly practice gardening with water conversation.

What You Should Do

  1. Install drip irrigation – as mentioned earlier, it is important that you properly irrigate your plants. In fact, it is one of the core principles of xeriscaping. To help you out, you can install a drip irrigation system. Although you may have to turn off this irrigation system once the plants become firmly established in the roots, it is important that you leave it turned on for the first few years. The subsurface drip system helps to prevent waste of water.
  2. Group plants based on watering needs – if you’re keen on planting some of the water-hungry plants, then you could group them together. The reason for this is to ensure that they get the right amount of water needed for growth. Also, doing this will ensure that you do not neglect any of the plants. For dry regions, humidity-craving plants may need to go inside next to a plant humidifier.
  3. Consider seasonal interest – you need to choose your plants carefully. Why? Doing this will afford you the opportunity of enjoying the effect of a beautiful and dried bouquet.
  4. Use perennial flowers for close grouping – it has been identified that using drought-resistant flowering perennials gives this bold punch of flower power especially to a xeric garden. Aside from the aesthetics, doing this tends to keep the plants cooler and reduces the need for water.
  5. Do well to use your imagination – one of the very first things to take to heart when it comes to xeriscaping is that it is adaptable. This simply means that it is capable of adapting to various styles. All you need do is use your imagination to create something.

What You Should Not Do

  1. Do not be afraid to get rid of your lawn – while lawns have been identified to be very water-hungry, most people with kids and pets still opt for it. It is a perfect playing ground for your kids and pets. To help you out, consider asking a landscaper for varieties of turf you can use on certain parts of your property.
  2. Do not start with large specimens – most of the larger plants need more water for them to be established deeply. Aside from that, they grow faster than anything and can move from 1 gallon to over 5 gallons in the next couple of years.
  3. Do not cut back or prune plants during winter – most plants have this structural and beautiful shape even after they go brown. Instead of simply cutting your plants during winter, it is advised that you leave them to grow. This will help you know the winter look of these plants
  4. Do not overplant woody shrubs – when crowded, woody shrubs tend to develop this crooked or some of the time irregular growth habit. This is exactly why it is advised that you do not plant woody shrubs together as this does not only cause irregular growth, but it also prevents the free flow of air, thus, resulting in diseases and in some cases, death of the plant.
  5. Do not skip the soil preparation stage – although soil preparation is one of the core principles of xeriscaping, most people for so many reasons have decided to skip this important stage. It is advised that you do not. Depending on your climate or the region you reside in, you need to test the soil to ensure that it is ready for you to plant.

How To Maintain Xeriscaping

Maintaining xeriscaping is as important as setting it up. A lot of issues stem from not laying the right foundation or using the right tools.

  • Weed and prune regularly – one of the many problems plants face is having to compete with weeds for water, sunlight, and other essential nutrients. To stop this unhealthy competition, it is important that you take out time regularly to remove weeds from around your plants.
  • Irrigate properly – as mentioned earlier, your goal should be to ensure that water gets to the plant. While you do this, it is equally important that you do not waste water in the process. There are various irrigation systems that you can choose from to ensure that your plants receive the right amount of water while conserving it.
  • Compost the soil – this is just one aspect of soil preparation. You need to test the soil before you begin planting. This act has been identified to help increase the water capacity of the soil, ensuring that it is able to take the right amount of water.

Get Started Today!

Xeriscaping is currently one of the best ways to conserve water at home — especially in areas or regions where there have been reports of water shortages. It is not only beneficial to gardeners, but to the environment at large. While getting started as well as maintaining xeriscape may prove to be a herculean task for most gardeners, we have discussed what xeriscape is, its core principles, as well as some of the benefits of this practice.

To prevent irregular or crooked plant growth, we have also highlighted some of the things you should and should not do. In all, it is important that you properly maintain the xeriscape and also carry out a soil test before planting.

Read More

Related Articles

Seed Saving: How Important Is It Anyway?

Growing plants from seeds has never been easier! All planters really need to get started is a quick trip to the store, or a...

Breeding Plants In Your Garden: It’s Not Just For Farmers!

Plant breeding is one of those topics that gardeners don't often consider. Although they have probably heard about selective breeding and its uses before,...

10 Natural Aphid Control Methods

Fewer things in life are more enjoyable than growing your own plants. From showy annuals to hardy perennials, the plants we choose to put...

Practicing Soil Restoration In Your Garden: 10 Actionable Tips

One of the biggest buzzwords in modern agriculture is 'restorative farming.' Otherwise known as 'soil restoration' or 'regenerative agriculture,' this practice allows farmers big...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here