Planning a Xeriscape Garden

When xeriscape is mentioned, many people think of cactus and sand--or rock gardens. Mind you, both cactus gardens and rock gardens can be quite attractive. But that is not all xeriscaping allows. You can have a xeriscape landscape that is fully planted, colorful--and water-conserving. Nor do you have to use only drought-tolerant plants. The idea is to reduce overall water use by grouping plants with similar needs together--so you can have one area that uses some extra water and another area where you need no more water than nature provides. If you grow edible plants, the same principle applies.

Advantages of xeriscape

  • Water saving: Using native and other drought-tolerant plants can significantly reduce water use.
  • Money saving: Reducing water use can lower your water bill. Xeriscaping can also reduce maintenance costs--while adding to the beauty and value of your property.
  • Time saving: xeriscape landscaping can significantly reduce the time you spend watering, fertilizing and mowing. (Buy a hammock--you'll have more time to use it.)
  • No worries: It's nice to be able to go on vacation for a few weeks and know your plants will still be alive when you return.

The seven principles of xeriscape:

  • Plan and design for water conservation and beauty from the start.
  • Create practical turf areas of manageable size and shape, and appropriate grasses.
  • Select plants with low water requirements and group plants of similar water needs together. Experiment to determine how much and how often to water the plants.
  • Use soil amendments (we recommend Gardner & Bloome Organics) as needed by the site and the type of plants used.
  • Use mulches to reduce evaporation and to keep the soil cool.
  • Irrigate efficiently with properly designed systems--and by applying the right amount of water at the right time.
  • Maintain the landscape properly by mowing, weeding, pruning and fertilizing properly.

If you've just moved in to a new place and want a whole new landscape, consider xeriscape. We'd advise you, in that situation, to hire a professional landscaper to help you design the landscape--and to do the hard work for you. Doing a whole landscape at once is too much for most individuals. But you can use the "bit by bit" approach or a simple substitution approach, and move your landscape gradually to xeriscape.

Perhaps you have a problem area where it's difficult to keep your plants growing well, an area that is difficult to irrigate, or a lawn area that's hard to mow or keep green. Look at these areas as candidates for the first moves to xeriscape.

One of the major things to look at when xeriscaping is, "Can I get rid of some of that lawn?" Out of all the things we grow in our yards, turf is usually the biggest overall water-user. If you live in an area with a homeowner's association that requires you to have a certain percentage of lawn, at least make your long-term plans to get the lawn down to the minimal acceptable percentage (or get the rule changed).

When planning a xeriscaped area, keep in mind that curves are more natural (and easier to mow around) than sharp angles. Also look at the soil type, the amount of sun or shade, elevation, and ease of access.

Do you have some plants that already do well in that area, even if neglected? Keep them for xeriscaping in that particular micro-climate in your yard. Remove, or move, plants that are not doing well and amend the soil before planting any new plants. Then mulch.

Keep in mind that even xeriscape plants will need extra water when first planted--until established. Once established, however, they will need much less maintenance than other areas.

You may find you like xeriscape so much you'll continue till your whole yard (or as much as possible) is xeriscaped. You can then lie in the hammock you bought with the savings on your water bill, sipping a cool drink on a hot summer day, and watching your neighbors sweating over their vast expanses of turf. Have fun!

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