As many parts of the country move into the dry season (some parts are already there; others have the opposite problem), it’s a good time to consider xeriscaping principles in our gardens and landscapes.
What is xeriscaping? Simply stated, it’s water-wise gardening. It’s not just about the water we use (or don’t) during times of drought. It also addresses our use of diminishing water supplies as demand — from population and housing growth, agriculture, industry and, yes, drought — continue to tax finite water supplies. Xeriscaping is a way of continuing to have enjoyable landscapes in the face of less and more expensive water use.
The details of xeriscaping are encyclopedic. They’re linked to local soil, native plant, and climatic factors. But the basic principles are simple, common-sense measures and are easy to apply almost anywhere. Here are the eight principles, with our comments, listed in David Salman and Cindy Bellinger’s aptly titled and useful reference Waterwise Garden Care: Your Practical Guide published by High Country Gardens Publications.
- Plan and Design: Salman and Bellinger suggest creating water zones and then plant accordingly. “Allocate water where it will most directly contribute to the beauty and comfort of your home.” In other words, concentrate plants that need more water where they can be seen from a porch, balcony or window.
- Create Practical Turf Areas: Lawns use a lot of water. Limit their size and plant them with native grasses.
- Use Appropriate Plants: This is where the details — and a good nursery person — can come in handy. An observation: Native plants look naturally great in their native habitats.
- Improve the Soil: Nobody needs to tell the wise gardener that organic matter in the form of compost helps soil retain moisture. This is a critical step in getting the most from the water you do use.
- Use Mulches: Mulch captures moisture, whether from rain or watering, and prevents runoff. It also keeps soil loose and friable.
- Irrigate Efficiently: Drip irrigation and soaker hoses — even hand watering — are efficient ways to deliver moisture to your plants. Watering to proper depth, or thorough watering, is also important. Keeping moisture in the soil — see mulch above — adds to efficiency.
- Capture Rain and Snow Runoff: Rain barrels save water from your roof for later use in the garden. Terracing and water-holding ponds can also supply moisture to plants when used effectively — see plan and design above.
- Maintain Your Landscape and Garden Properly: If you overwater, your plants will just demand more water. If using drip irrigation and other delivery means, keep them in top working order. A broken timer on your drip system can allow your plants to dry out, or worse, drown them. Vigilance — monitoring the moisture needs of your plants — saves both plants and water.
Xeriscaping isn’t just for gardeners in dry areas. Everyone can use water more efficiently in their gardens and, with the cost of water bills these days, efficient use of water isn’t just good for your plants but good for your pocketbook. How do you make the most efficient use of your water? Let’s us know. Each of the principles above has a myriad of practice and technique attached to it. Tell us yours.