Xeriscaping for Gardens To Conserve Water and Beautify Trouble Zones

Simply put, xeriscape is landscaping designed toward water conservation, resourcefulness for drought conditions, and use of native plants that have adapted to accept lower moisture levels.  Derived from “xeros,” the Greek word for “dry,” successful xeriscaping far surpasses the desert garden look so often associated with it.  Before acting on your own xeriscape ideas, consider these elements:

  • Setting
  • Exposures
  • Slopes
  • Soil
  • Irrigation potential

With such crucial elements at the center of your garden planning, design is your number one starting place.  While many wonderful gardens grow from whimsy and spontaneity, xeriscape gardens require careful planning, especially where water conservation and run off control are true top priorities.

Setting affects xeriscaping plans in various ways.  Slopes, southern and western exposures, and other similar issues will lead to run off problems and maximum evaporation.  Where slopes are an issue, terracing is the most effective measure for reducing run off and promoting soil soak.  Everywhere water might slowly soak into soil for deep moisture, water is conserved and plants will be healthier. 

Southern and Western exposures promote evaporation of valuable water, but that does not mean that gardening cannot be implemented in such areas.  Trees and shrubs may be incorporated into your xeriscape design to create shade.  Shade helps to cool natural hot zones, and that means cooler soil and lower evaporation rates. 

Extreme soils are not likely to conserve water.  Where high levels of sand exist, water retention is low.  Where clay content is heavy, run off is excessive.  For the greatest potential of supporting plant life and conserving water:

  • Compost your soil before planting, adding compost every year
  • Amend your soil to balance sand, silt, and clay whenever/wherever possible
  • Establish a volume pore space of about 50%

Ideal soil includes:

  • Aggregates (clusters)
  • Sand
  • Pore space

Balancing sand, silt, and clay promotes the balance for ideal soaking and water conservation.  As the water directs through each of these components, evaporation is minimized, run off is avoided, and deep soaking is increased.

Among the drought-tolerant trees that should blend with xeriscaping in various areas are:

  • Southern magnolia
  • Lacebark elm
  • American holly
  • Golden rain tree
  • Pines
  • Ginkgo
  • Oaks
  • Hackberry

Place any of these trees strategically to optimize their role in your xeriscape garden.  Acting as both focal points and thermal controls, these trees will set the tone for your entire scene.

Shrubs that help with shade include:

  • Holly
  • Nandina
  • Barberry
  • Abelia           
  • Juniper

Each of these may be included to create a unique aesthetic within your garden.  Many xeriscapes incorporate spindly pines and low junipers for a pleasing desert garden effect.

Perennial plants that work well in xeriscapes are native, adapted to specific climates, and establishing roots to return year after year.  Some of the best choices for low-maintenance xeriscaping are:

  • Mint
  • Salvia
  • Coreopsis
  • Rudbeckia
  • Coneflower
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Ornamental succulents

Adding a selection of spring bulbs and late bloomers will extend your bloom range and make the best use of spring and fall rains.  For this reason, consider introducing tried and true favorites such as irises and crocuses.

The most successful xeriscapes will be designed to include efficient irrigation systems.  Efficient irrigation systems DO NOT DEMONSTRATE:

  • Misting
  • Overlap
  • Drive or patio watering

Observe the flow of your irrigation lines or plan to determine that each of these inefficient practices is eradicated.  Outlying shrubs, raised plants, trees, and narrow strips of turf will benefit from drip systems.  If your main irrigation plan involves manual watering, try to stick to an as-needed system.  Water those plants that need it most to avoid over watering and wasting this valuable resource. 

Two other techniques that help to create successful water conservation in your drought tolerant design are proper mulching and decrease of lawn blanketing.  Organic mulches are excellent choices for any garden as they add nutrients to the garden as they break down; attract worms, and cool soil.  Often synthetic choices are counterproductive as they increase heat and decrease moisture retention. 

Lawn blanketing, or planting water-thirsty turfs, necessitates frequent watering.  Additionally, narrow strips, quirky corners, and islands of turf can be tricky to water.  Your best bet is to isolate lawn to areas closest to the house or in frequently traveled paths. 

Once you have established your well-planned xeriscape, water, at least, should be zero hassle. 

GreenwoodNursery.com is your mail order nursery for buying plants online for your xeriscape gardening projects.