The start of a new decade is an appropriate time to look ahead to the future — and it’s hard to escape the fact that humans are putting an increasing demand on the environment. According to the federally funded Resources Planning Act Assessment, much of the United States will be susceptible to extreme water shortages within the next few decades.
But you need not look farther than your own home to begin doing your part to slow the water shortage trend: Xeriscaping is a combination of seven gardening techniques designed to use little or no irrigation. (Not to mention, xeriscaping can be very beautiful!)
Here are the seven principles of xeriscaping to help you get started with water-wise landscaping…
Planning and design:
As you lay out designs for a xeriscape area, think of “hydrozones” based on water usage. For example, there can be an “oasis” section of the xeriscape that requires more water that tapers out into an area that requires a moderate amount of water and then an area where watering is not necessary.
Although soil may be out of sight, it shouldn’t be out of mind. By adding compost to the oasis and moderate-water usage sections of the xeriscape, you can boost the soil’s capacity for retaining water. Even in dry areas of the landscape, rototilling the soils helps with root development by providing more air and water for roots.
Practical turf area:
Contrary to misconceptions, xeriscaping does not mean “anti-lawn.” Rather, xeriscaping promotes intentional turf areas that use hardy, drought-resistant grass in specific areas. Not only is this nice for kicking around a soccer ball or playing with the dog, but turf also helps reduce erosion.
Especially as root systems are developing, irrigation is likely going to be necessary. But there is still an opportunity to improve its efficiency through hydrozoning and conscious watering practices.
A mainstay in xeriscaping, mulch serves an important role by covering soil, reducing evaporation, regulating soil temperature and limiting erosion. Organic mulch also holds water and offers more nutrients to plants.
Low-water use plants:
Xeriscaping requires a bit of a mindset shift from “oh, that flower is pretty” to “oh, that flower will grow nicely in our region.” Aim to consider the hardiness of plants as well as the growing season, as a long growing season will call for less water because the roots will be well developed. Incorporating shrubs and trees can also provide shade and color with minimal water.
Another misconception is that xeriscaping means “no maintenance,” but this is not entirely true. Expect to do regular work by pruning, weeding and checking in on the irrigation system. Like any other garden, the commitment will ebb and flow through the seasons.