An Introduction to Xeriscaping

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Combine the Greek word for dry, "xeri," with the English word “landscaping” and you get "xeriscaping." Although the concept was originally intended for communities that suffer frequently from drought, xeriscaping can be introduced into any yard and can add beauty to your property.

What Is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping's purpose is to reduce water usage and maintenance by transforming the landscape with native plants instead of using varieties that aren't local to your region, which likely need constant attention and watering to survive. One thing xeriscaping is not is patches of grass. It may be difficult to adjust to not having a luxurious lawn, but the less grass you have, the less mowing you need to do, the less water you will need, and the smaller your water bill will be.

Xeriscape vegetation should be able to survive some of the toughest drought conditions for your area, so the best plants for your design should be indigenous to your state or region. You can further reduce water usage by grouping plants with specific water needs together. When using native plants, you will also be able to reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizers and pesticides. You won’t need chemicals to maintain your yard since nature will take care of it for you.

With proper planning and execution, a drought-tolerant yard can also increase the value of your property, and in most cases, the increase in property value will exceed what you spend on the initial project.

What Should I Be Aware Of?

Xeriscaping does require some planning. It is imperative to knowing what planting hardiness zone you live in, so you can easily find plants that will flourish naturally where you live. While the design is the easy part, the initial work to start a xeriscaped yard can be labor intensive—actually laying rock beds and pathways can be backbreaking work. Acquiring a fully drought-resistant yard can also require patience. Often, it can take up to five years to establish a thriving plant bed.

One of the highest costs of xeriscaping a yard can be an irrigation system. Plants do need some water, after all! Drip irrigation is the best because it filters the water into the needed area slowly and goes deep into the soil, giving plants a strong root system. Sprinklers and hoses waste a lot of water through runoff and evaporation, which will throw a wrench in your attempts to lower your water bills. Additionally, runoff from using a hose can pick up trash, bacteria, and motor oil on its way through the drain system, only to dump eventually into the ocean. For these reasons, irrigation systems are the way to go.

Recommended Plants

Researching online or visiting a local green house will help familiarize you with plants native to your area. Local flora is best because it is already adapted to your climate and, as we said already, will require minimal care and watering on your part. That's the whole point of xeriscaping! However, because many perennials (plants that live for two or more years) are drought-tolerant, they can also make an excellent choice for a xeriscaped yard. Again, know your planting zone so you can make educated decisions; a perennial in Florida will not survive a winter in Wisconsin. Below is a selection of plants that will survive in more than a few planting zones.

An alternative to the typical high maintenance grass of most lawns is buffalo grass (zones three-11), which grows so slowly that you may not need to mow it all season. Be careful, though—it will not survive in moist or acidic soils.

Another alternative to grass is to use ground covers. These are still very green and in some cases colorful. For example, moss rose (zones five-11) is an excellent ground cover because although it's an annual, it will reseed itself.

Butterfly weed (zones four-11) is a flowering perennial that is well suited to dry, sandy locations. The bright orange flower clusters bloom every spring and can grow to a height of three feet.

You can take your xeriscaped yard to new heights with several tree varieties. Appropriate species include the gray birch, Russian olive, honey locust, and plum tree. Once established, their deep root systems access underground water sources, so they will not require extra watering.

For more plants to consider, click here.