Xeriscaping refers to a style of landscaping that requires little or no supplemental watering. The term, generated in Colorado by the Front Range Xeriscape Task Force, has become used world wide. While of particular importance in regions that are prone to drought, xeriscaping is useful in all areas of the country. The primary goal of xeriscaping is to conserve water, so it is important to plant things adapted to your climate. It may seem that xeriscaping is only suitable for dry climates like the southwest or desserts, but the fact is that water is becoming an increasingly rare commodity.
Even in areas like New England xeriscaping has a place. Most of a household’s water consumption during summer months goes to watering large swaths of lawn. Although that lawn is pretty, it isn’t very ecologically efficient. Xeriscaping your yard can decrease your water usage by 50% or more, which translates into some very real savings. New England is an area of the country that isn’t usually associated with water shortages, but commercial use has increase dramatically in the last few decades and dry spells have created water shortages even there. Xeriscaping functions on seven basic principals. By following these concepts you can successfully xeriscape your own home.
Look for ways to reduce the amount of water your plantings will need. By evaluating the contours of your landscape you can place plants needing more water in areas of higher drainage, or create terraces there to absorb more rainfall. Place plants with similar watering needs together in clumps so that you don’t end up over-watering some plants just to accommodate others.
The first step in soil conditioning is having your soil tested. You can purchase a test kit or take a sample of your soil to a good gardening store. In fact, such a store may be your best ally in creating a xeriscape plan for your yard, so it is worth while cultivating that relationship early. County extension offices will also test soil, sometimes for free, and are a wonderful resource as well.
The ideal soil for xeriscaping will drain quickly and absorb water well. The best way to create those conditions is to feed the soil significant amounts of organic matter. The only exception is if you plan to plant succulents and cacti, those plants prefer leaner soils. If your soil tests indicate deficiencies this is the time to incorporate things like bone meal, phosphorous or other additives.
Grass is water intensive. It requires constant maintenance, mowing and feeding. Unless you need large areas for children to play on, consider removing as much grass as possible. Additionally, to make care easier, avoid geometric shapes with sharp corners. Moderate sized, curvy patches are easier to mow and large enough to water with a small sprinkler. Several strains of grass require less water, so ask about which are most appropriate to your area.
Select Plants Carefully
Having gone to all the effort of preparing the perfect place for drought resistant plants, make sure you pick local plants that will do well with a minimum of watering. Plants exposed to more sun and wind should be more tolerant of dry conditions. Plants that need more water or cooler temperatures can be planted in northern and eastern facing beds.
Consider the final size of the plant, not the size at planting. If you plant a large species in a small space because it takes less room at the start, you are going to spend a lot of time pruning it. Less work is part of the attraction of xeriscaping. Group plants according to their need for water.
Even xeriscaped gardens need water, they just need less water. Drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses are ideal for watering a xeriscaped garden. They direct water to the base of the plants, prevent over-watering and can be placed beneath mulch to keep them out of the sun, further reducing evaporation. These slow methods of water delivery also encourage better absorption and decrease pooling, both of which are better for the plants. Water deeply but infrequently for maximum effect.
It can’t be stated strongly enough that mulch can make or break your new xeriscape garden. When applied to sufficient depth, 2-4 inches, mulch helps reduce watering dramatically all by itself. It helps retain water in the soil by preventing evaporation. Mulch is also great plant food. As your mulch breaks down it returns its nutrients to the soil. Top dressing, or adding more mulch on top of old mulch, keeps this process going continuously. Organic mulches are the best for this and can be purchased by the bag or in bulk from a garden supply store.
True, xeriscape gardens need less care, once established, than traditional plantings, but they do need care. Proper weeding, pruning and feeding will get your new plots well established. Once established most xeriscape plots need little beyond routine maintenance to flourish.
The best form of proactive maintenance you can perform is starting your own compost pile. Compost can be used for mulching and feeding and it reduces waste. Select a well drained corner of the yard and build your own container or purchase one of the many models available. Information on maintaining a compost pile is readily available on line.
Don’t let your grass get to high before you mow it. If you let the grass grow unchecked it takes longer for it to recover from mowing. You should not cut more than one third the total length of the grass each time you mow. Letting your clippings fall and decompose helps return nutrients to the soil.
Fertilize as is appropriate to your plantings and climate. Over fertilizing can encourage weeds and actually harm plants. It is best to water during the early part of the morning or evening. Watering after dark encourages rot and molds. If the need arises try to control pests as naturally as possible, either through introducing beneficial insects or through traps. Chemical controls kill all insects, not just harmful ones.
Once you have converted to xeriscaping you will wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. The savings on water, effort and time will more than make up for the investment you made. Xeriscaping is the wave of the future; it’s time to hop on board.
North American Drought Tolerant Native Grasses:
+ Big Bluestem
+ Blue Grama
+ Cereal Rye Grain
+ Eastern Gamagrass
+ Eastern Gamagrass(3 Eco-Types)
+ Green Sprangletop
+ Inland Sea Oats
+ Little Bluestem
+ Prairie Wildrye
+ Prairie Wildrye Roots
+ Purple Three-Awn
+ Sand Dropseed
+ Sand Lovegrass
+ Sideoats Grama
+ Silver Bluestem
+ Switchgrass, Upland
+ Texas Cupgrass
+ Virginia Wildrye