Lovely landscapes... even when water is scarce

A recent e-mail question from a reader got me thinking about a subject that we haven't discussed before in this column. Monette West wrote: " We get your column in the Zapata County News in Zapata, Texas. Can you give me some info on xeriscaping. I am sure that is not correct but I expect you can figure out what I mean."

Your spelling is correct, Monette. The term "xeriscape" is derived from combining the Greek word "xeros" meaning dry with the more familiar word "landscape". In fact, the name has been around since 1981 when it was coined by the Front Range Xeriscape Task Force of the Denver (CO) Water Department. I can't think of too many other words introduced into our language by city utility departments, but this is one word that is worth getting to know.

Regardless of where you live, water – or the scarcity of water – is becoming more of a concern every year. This is particularly true for landowners faced with watering restrictions just at the time when their plants and shrubs are most in need of H2O.

So what is xeriscaping?

The goal of a xeriscape is to create a visually attractive landscape that uses plants selected for their water efficiency. According to researchers for the City of Albuquerque, NM, a properly maintained xeriscape can easily use less than one-half the water of a traditional landscape. And it's worth noting that once established, a xeriscape should require less maintenance than turf landscape. Xeriscaping de-emphasizes the use of bluegrass lawns and other thirsty plants. This reduces the amount of time you spend watering, fertilizing and mowing. And that fact alone could be incentive enough for some people I know. Reducing water use would probably reduce your water bill and maintenance costs, too.

You can find several useful ideas at their website: There's a direct link to that (and all other resources mentioned here) from my website, Click on "The Plant Man" and find the link in this article.

In a previous column, I discussed choosing trees that suit your particular environment. There are a number of trees that are less "thirsty" than others, and you're welcome to e-mail me for suggestions that should work well in your part of the country. You might consider willow trees and some varieties of conifer.

The first "low water" solution that springs to mind is a rock garden, and a strategically designed and located rock garden can be an attractive focal point in any size of landscape, just about anywhere in America. For eye appeal, vary the size and color of the rocks and plant a variety of succulents around and in between the rocks.

But according to the Agricultural Extension at Texas A&M, Xeriscape landscapes are more than just cactus and rock gardens. They can be cool, green landscapes full of beautiful plants which are maintained with water efficient practices. The same green landscapes which we are accustomed to can be achieved and still conserve water. (You can find several practical watering ideas at their website :Agricultural Extension at Texas A&M, Xeriscape)

Don't confuse xeriscaping with "zero-scaping". Xeriscaping can be as lush and beautiful as any other form of landscaping, so think outside the "rock and cactus" box. Wildflowers are very attractive and low maintenance. Some idea-starters: poppies, cornflowers and marigolds. And other, more formal, plants could include Roses, Lily-of-the-Valley and Hollyhocks.

Consider ornamental grasses as an alternative to your thirsty, demanding lawn! They require minimum care and are virtually drought resistant. Investigate various varieties including: yellow pampas grass, stricta and purple fountain grass.

Here is another resource you might wish to investigate:

Again you can link directly from this column on my website. And remember, that xeriscaping isn't just for extraordinarily hot climates. A low-maintenance, water-conserving xeriscape can be a beautiful landscaping solution wherever you live.

Reader feedback: Still more on those Catalpa worms!

I received a wonderful story from Kathryn White in Brentwood, TN, in which she recalled climbing a Catalpa tree to retrieve worms for her great grandmother. You can read the full text at my website.

There you can also find a follow-up from Liz in Waterloo, IL, to a question about suitable trees to line a long driveway. She wrote: "We have a drive that is 340 feet and I have Redbud trees on both sides and it is a canopy. It doesn't take long for the Redbuds to grow. I am sending you a picture of the drive which has since filled out both sides with more Redbud trees. I have to trim them, they hang down in places and hit the cars and trucks but if this man wants the canopy effect this is the tree for it."

My thanks to both of you ladies!