How to Plant a Xeriscape Garden

Both professional landscapers and home gardeners are using xeriscape gardens [zair-ih-scape] today to conserve water and show off the beauty of plants native to their geographic area. Included below are a few specific principles for how to plant and manage a xeriscape garden.

Step 1: Select Plants Native to Your Area that Require Little Watering

Ornamental grass species and flowering plants with small blooms work well in xeriscapes in most regions. You can get advice on plant selection from garden centers, and the public works department of your city. Many cities have established pilot xeriscape gardens, with labels on the plants in the project.

Local gardening groups can also suggest drought-resistant xeriscape plants to use.

Check at the bookstore or library for books on xeriscape gardening. Photos of existing xeriscape gardens can inspire your overall design.  

Step 2: Choose Your Garden Site and Make a Xeriscape Plan

Choose an area with partial shade and some form of wind protection to help reduce water evaporation, prevent soil dryness, and promote deep roots. Also, use an organic mulch rather than pebble or stone mulch, because it will help protect the plants from drying out. Pebble or stone mulch will draw and hold heat on top of the soil, drying it out faster.

If possible, choose moderately sloped areas as they will have better drainage than flat or low-lying sites. Construct your xeriscape garden where you have a well established lawn, as dense turf grass gulps down water. Also, many lawn grasses are non-native, so they lure pests and diseases unfamiliar to native plants.
Group your xeriscape plants by their light and water needs, and plant in clumps. Avoid planting in rigid rows, as this causes quicker evaporation.

Step 3: Prepare the Soil for Your Xeriscape Garden

Improve the fertility and condition of your soil by adding topsoil to sandy dry earth. Balance a clay soil with the addition of drier materials and fine crushed stones. Add compost or manure to sandy and clay soils to build up organic material content.

Be sure to dig down deep enough when adding organic material to soil. For grasses and flowering plants, dig down at least 12 inches. For shrubbery, you’ll want to dig down at least 18 inches.

Lay down a landscape cloth under sun-loving plants in your xeriscape. Pile on at least 3 inches of mulch atop the soil or landscape cloth after planting. This will dramatically cut your xeriscape garden's water demand, and strengthen your plants to compete against weeds. In winter, mulch insulates the roots of perennials against ground frost.

Step 4:  Plan and Create the Most Efficient Watering System

Locate plants that will need the most frequent watering nearest the source of water. Consider piped water, drip irrigation and methods that water below ground level. If these are beyond your budget, use low-flow sprinklers and low-pressure garden hoses to prevent erosion from water run-off.

For do-it-yourself savings, you can make a rudimentary drip irrigation system using an old hose you don’t mind pricking holes in. You can also set up rainwater collection containers. Fill a watering can from the container, and pour water by hand around the roots only.

Step 5:  Plant Your Xeriscape Plants

Allow adequate sunlight space around plant groups. Plant a mixture of sun and shade plants for interest and to reduce water needs. Maintain with regular watering and weeding in the morning and evening.