The New Landscaping?
Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that aims to conserve water and reduce the need for supplemental irrigation. The term combines the word landscaping with the Greek word xeros, meaning dry.
How It’s Different
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill landscaping. Xeriscaped gardens are planned to make efficient use of resources and to reduce water waste. For example, landscapers may install waterlines and roof spouts to direct rainfall onto plants with higher water requirements. This makes landscape design a critical component of xeriscaping, but aspects of traditional gardening come into play too: Xeriscaped gardens often use compost to improve the soil’s water absorption, and xeriscapers select plants to suit the garden’s needs, prioritizing low-water and drought-resistant plants such as native cacti, flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees.
Where It All Began
The term “xeriscaping” was coined by the Denver Water Board in 1981, when the city became the first urban area to encourage residents to adopt low-water-use landscaping practices.
Xeriscaping practices caught on in other areas, especially in arid zones with high potential for drought. Today a number of cities in the Southwest offer tax incentives for homeowners who convert grass lawns to xeriscapes.
Putting It Into Practice
Gardeners and landscapers can incorporate xeriscaping techniques in many ways, from seeking out low-water and drought-tolerant plants to replacing grass lawns with gravel or rocks. Plants can also be grouped in zones so that each group can be watered according to its needs without any waste. Xeriscapers take watering techniques into consideration too: For example, plants are best watered with rotary spray nozzles or other methods that result in relatively large droplets distributed at low angles (helping avoid wind drift). Need an automatic irrigation system? Consider drip irrigation, which uses 50 percent less water than traditional sprinklers. By applying water directly to the soil just around the roots of plants, it not only uses less water, but also reduces waste from runoff and evaporation.
The average American household uses about 100 gallons of water per day for outdoor purposes, about 50 of which are wasted by inefficient irrigation methods, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Xeriscaped gardens can use 50 percent less water than traditional gardens, helping preserve freshwater—an increasingly scarce natural resource in many parts of the world.
An Investment That Saves
Installing a fully xeriscaped garden can be costly at first. A professional landscaper may charge between $1 and $4 per square foot to install a xeriscaped garden, although you can defray part of that cost by doing some of the work yourself. Whether or not you DIY it, xeriscaping can save money over time by reducing water use. Plus, xeriscaped gardens often require less maintenance than traditional gardens, saving expense and effort (and your knees!).
Bring It on Home
Home gardeners can incorporate xeriscape practices into their backyard landscapes by replacing high-water-use plants with plants that are native to the local climate. The water needs of these native species tend to more closely match the local water availability. For example, homeowners in the Southwest might opt for drought-resistant plants, such as cacti or yarrow, while those in the Midwest might replace Kentucky bluegrass—which in some areas needs about two inches of water per week—with native buffalo grass, which requires about half as much water. You can find free xeriscaping plans that you can adapt for your own use, including low-cost options and special designs for slopes, narrow strips, and shady areas, at Denver Water.