Exactly what is xeriscaping? The term, coined in 1981, is defined as quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment based on seven principles: planning and design, soil analysis, practical turf areas, appropriate plant selection, efficient irrigation, use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance. The word itself comes from xeros—Greek for dry. Combining xeros with scape—which literally means a picture or a view of a type of scene—equates with the image of a dry landscape.
Many people think of xeriscapes as hot, hostile, and thorny. Some associate the term with minimal plant material and lots of rock. Actually, xeriscaping can be and often is very attractive, quite lush, and extremely colorful.
With many areas of the nation experiencing drought of varied severity, as well as 100-plus degree heat, homeowners are finding themselves in an uphill battle against the sweltering temperatures, the inability to frequently water, and the struggle to maintain a traditional lawn and keep alive plants that may not be suited to the local climate. Xeriscaping promotes the concept of working with Mother Nature.
The goal of xeriscaping, sometimes referred to as smartscaping, is to minimize water usage by using plants native to the region, the kinds of plants that have evolved to survive and even thrive on an area’s typical amount of rainfall. In contrast, conventional lawns require significant amounts of water and ongoing maintenance. Xeriscaping offers a proven alternative.
Arid and semiarid landscapes were the first natural xeriscapes—places where plants naturally adapted to survive on little to no water. Unfortunately, xeriscaping developed a stigma over the years as a sparse design composed only of cactus and rock. However, shifting climate patterns and increasing attention to water conservation have resulted in a resurgence in the popularity of xeriscaping and a rediscovery of the variety it can offer.
The Road to Success
The first steps in xeriscaping involve evaluation and planning. For starters, survey the yard to ensure that it is contoured correctly to collect rain and minimize run off. An enormous amount of water is lost each year to run off. A yard that can efficiently retain water is key to minimizing water use. Reducing run-off also helps limit erosion and pollution. Next, identify native plants that have adapted to local conditions, the kinds of plants that require little or no water other than what falls naturally and that do not need fertilizing. Once the evaluation, planning, and designing have been done, your xeriscaping plan needs to be submitted to the Association’s Architecture Committee via this website, “Home” page, bottom right. With the Committee’s approval, you’re good to go! Provided for you below is an example of a home in Block House Creek that has beautifully xeriscaped their front yard.
It is important to group plants that have similar water needs. A xeriscape will generally have three areas of plants sorted into three groups based on water needs: very low, low, and medium. Grouping prevents over- or under-watering, which in turn limits the amount of wasted water. It’s also very important to add a secret weapon, mulch, to ensure that plants receive water before it evaporates. Available in many varieties and colors, mulch serves as a protective covering for soil and prevents water from evaporating quickly. An irrigation system is also important. So is watering only at dawn or dusk, especially during the summer months.
Depending on the complexity of the xeriscaping plan, the usual chores—pulling weeds, mulching—aren’t going away. But, xeriscaping can be adapted to fit the needs of any gardener, from a very low maintenance yard requiring only seasonal or monthly upkeep to a highly involved landscape that will impress even expert gardeners. An important note: “low water usage” and “no water usage” are very different terms. So are “low maintenance” and “no maintenance”. The required level of maintenance will heavily depend on the complexity of the design.
The cost of xeriscaping is typically on par with any other landscaping plan. However, the cost can be compensated by a significant water bill savings. Studies have shown that, on average, homes that have converted from turf to xeriscape require approximately 30% less water. In some areas, savings are much larger.
So Let’s Go!
Should you need assistance in planning a xeriscaped yard, local nurseries can offer valuable advise, especially for good choices of native plants and maintenance tips. If you are headed in the xeriscape direction, you’ve made a valuable commitment to water conservation, to the environment, and to a lower water bill.