by David Salman
The steps to plan and care for a low-maintenance, low-water xeriscape garden
At High Country Gardens we pride ourselves on offering a wide selection of xeric perennials that can be used to create a low-water, eco-friendly garden.
With drought conditions becoming more and more common in the Western United States, people are becoming more aware of how much water is used in their yard. It is possible to have a beautiful blooming garden without having a high water bill to maintain it.
There is no need to “zeroscape” your yard, with xeric perennials it is easy to create a beautiful xeriscape.
Here is a guide to what it means at High Country Gardens to create a low-maintenance, low-water xeriscape garden.
Planning and Design
Whether you're starting from scratch, or renovating an existing landscape, take the time to plan out your design before you start to plant. Part of the planning process involves creating water use zones so you can allocate water usage where it will most directly contribute to the beauty and comfort of your home.
Creating water use zones in your garden can help create a water efficient landscape.
There are three water use zones:
The Oasis Zone (zone 1) where the more water-intensive plants are used is the area up close to the house where the landscape is most visible and accessible to the home's interior and entry ways.
- Use hardy garden perennials, non-xeric groundcovers, ornamental grasses, small ornamental trees, annuals, container gardens, water features.
- Water harvesting from roof areas and hard surfaces is most easily done here.
- Vegetable gardens are considered oasis plantings (but do not need to be located next to the house).
The Transition Zone (zone 2) where water-wise xeric plants are used in areas that occupy the middle ground of the property especially along walkways, driveways, fences and other areas that are visible as you approach the house.
The Xeric Zone (zone 3), where only very xeric plants exist, is the outermost area along the property boundary and includes any out-of-the-way areas that are not used or seen much.
- Use very xeric perennials, shrubs, ornamental grasses.
Note: Many homeowners who are not gardeners (and some who just prefer xeric plants opt to forego an oasis zone and bring the transitional zone right up to the house. This gives them the landscaped look they want while providing additional watering savings.
Use Native Grasses for Turf Areas whenever possible
For optimum water savings use native grasses such as turf-type Buffalo Grass and Blue Grama grass (in the Western US). These are excellent drought-tolerant alternatives to thirsty Kentucky Blue Grass and other turf type grasses.
Only plant Kentucky Blue Grass or Fescue-type turf lawns in areas where heavy recreational use will occur. Herbaceous and woody groundcovers are an excellent low maintenance, low water lawn alternatives, especially on hillsides or when a less formal look is desired.
Use Plants Matched to Regional Conditions
Use plants that are a good match for your region's growing conditions. Both native and adapted (plants from other continents) need to be adapted to your soil pH, soil type, precipitation levels and weather (winter cold and summer heat).
Remember to match plants and microclimates; buildings, walls, topography and mature trees all create small areas with differing microclimates. Pick your plants accordingly.
- Xeric plants should be used for hot, dry south and west facing areas.
- Mesic plants (plants that prefer more moisture) should be used in moister areas along north and east facing slopes and walls.
- Don't mix plants with high and low watering needs in the same planting area.
Create a Healthy, Living Soil
The key to any successful xeriscape is a healthy, living soil. When new homes have been built on sites where the top soil has been removed or badly damaged by disturbance and compaction, living soil must be started from scratch. On established sites with good soil, soil health simply needs to be maintained. This is accomplished by:
- Adding organic matter to the soil at planting time in the form of compost and/or organic fertilizers.
- Inoculating new transplants with beneficial mycorrhizal root organisms.
- Continuing to fertilize (feed the soil) regularly with compost and organic fertilizers. This supports a healthy microbial population needed in the soil to break down organic materials and release nutrients to the plants.
- Avoiding the use of synthetic insecticides and fungicides on the soil that would harm the soil's web of life.
Mulching is an essential gardening technique in arid regions, especially in the Western US. By covering the soil's surface with some type of mulch, you will:
- Help retain valuable soil moisture by shading the soil from the hot sun. Save water and irrigate established plants less frequently.
- Capture rainwater by allowing hard rains to soak into the soil instead of running off into the street and drainage areas.
- Reduce weed growth.
- Add organic matter to the soil gradually improving the soil from the top down.
- Moderate soil temperatures making for more optimum root growth conditions.
Use a native grass, such as Buffalo grass, as a great drought-tolerant alternative to Kentucky Blue Grass.
Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth. Shallow, frequent irrigation encourages shallow root growth and thirsty plants. Use soaker hoses and drip irrigation to apply water directly to the root zone.
Know your soil type and understand how to best apply water to it. Sandy soils need different water schedules than clay soils.
As trees grow, move drip emitters further away from the trunk to apply water at the drip line.
Harvest Rain and Snow Run Off
Harvesting water from roofs, sidewalks, driveways and other hard surfaces and directing it onto your landscape to be stored in the soil is a very practical way of supplementing irrigation water from your well or faucet.
If legal in your state, use rain barrels and cisterns to capture and hold water draining off roofs to water potted container gardens and vegetable gardens.
Maintain Your Landscape and Garden Properly
A well-planned xeriscape planted with plants well matched to your region's conditions and climate will naturally be a low maintenance type of garden. When ever possible use organic products and techniques to create a balanced, healthy landscape in harmony with the environment.
Examples of some xeric maintenance techniques include the following:
- Avoid the lush, thirsty plant growth that results from over-fertilizing with harsh chemical fertilizers; use organic composts and fertilizers applied in the fall instead.
- Apply more mulch in the fall after fertilizing.
- Don't prune your shrubs into unnaturally shaped boxes and balls as this creates continuous high-frequency work for years to come.
- Keep your irrigation systems tuned and maintained at the start of each season.
- Don't cut back your perennials in the fall. Wait until early to mid-spring of the following year to improve winter cold hardiness of the plants and provide shelter for beneficial insects to over-winter.
© All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without Permission.
Xeriscape versus zeroscape: Is there a difference?
When it comes to desert landscaping you often hear the terms “Xeriscape” and “zeroscape” used interchangeably, but have you ever wondered what the difference is between the two? Xeriscape and zeroscape are definitely not the same. Let’s explain:
- Xeriscape comes from the Greek word “xeric” meaning dry or arid.
- Zeroscape is basically a mispronunciation of Xeriscape.
- The correct way to say Xeriscape is “zeer-i-scape” not “zee-ro-scape.”
- Xeriscape is a type of landscape design that uses low-water-use or drought-tolerant plants that require little to no supplemental irrigation.
- Zeroscape is a yard filled predominantly with gravel and dirt containing few or no plants.
- Xeriscape uses design and planning.
- Zeroscape lacks design and planning.
While Xeriscape refers to a landscape with plants, hardscape, and yes, sometimes turf, zeroscape may describe a sterile landscape of gravel and maybe a boulder or a palm tree or cactus. Just because we live in the desert doesn’t mean our yards must look barren.
A Xeriscaped yard planted with many species of beautiful drought-tolerant plants can be lush and beautiful while enhancing the beauty and function of an urban or suburban landscape. Xeriscapes also beautify the neighborhood, reduce cooling costs, create a sense of place, attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other desired wildlife.
Xeriscaped yards make sense because they are one of the best water-efficient landscaping options.
Xeriscape: Landscaping with Style in the Arizona Desert is a fantastic design guide and describes the seven basic principles of Xeriscape:
- Good landscape planning and design
- Low-water-use plants
- Appropriate turf areas
- Efficient irrigation
- Soil improvements
- Use of mulches
- Appropriate maintenance
Good Landscape Planning and Design
A good plan is the best way to guide you throughout the landscape process. Having a plan in place will help keep you focused, especially if you can’t afford to install your landscape all at once.
There are many free online resources to help you change your water-thirsty or barren yard to a lush, beautiful Xeriscape.
Also, visit a local demonstration garden for ideas and to see how different plant types look placed with each other and amongst beautiful hardscape elements.
Get even more guidance on designing your Xeriscape with free classes offered by Water – Use It Wisely partners. There are free classes about plant selection, pruning, Xeriscape design, irrigation efficiency, and more. View our Workshop/Events Calendar. Most providers will allow people who live outside of their service areas to attend. Confirm space availability with the class host.
Choosing the right low-water-use plants for your space can be tricky. Luckily, there are a few guides to help decide which plants will work best for your yard:
Appropriate Turf Areas
Grass (often called turf) may be a desired component in a well-designed Xeriscape yard. It is the only plant material that can handle foot traffic and it provides a softer surface for kids’ sports or dog’s paws. Real turf is also cooler than artificial turf. In case you missed it, read this Water – Use It Wisely article about artificial turf.
Routine irrigation checks will help keep your system running smoothly. Several water providers offer a variety of free irrigation classes.
The smart home water guide, Find & Fix Leaks that are Draining your Budget, will help you use your water meter to check for leaks both inside and outside your home. The city of Scottsdale has a handy checklist to help you keep your irrigation system in good working order.
Of course, efficient irrigation also means applying the right amount of water at the right times. Use Landscape Watering by the Numbers to learn how much and how often to water your landscape.
Soil Improvements & Use of Mulches
Soil improvements will help your landscape thrive and can reduce water use. Good soil will hold moisture and helps plants grow. Learn more about soil improvement here. Mulches will also keep the soil moist and help reduce water use. Here are some tips on mulching.
Maintenance is an important aspect of Xeriscaping. Planting the right plant in the right place will reduce the amount of pruning you need to do, however, there will be some maintenance with a Xeriscaped yard. Prune only when necessary and avoid pruning when the weather is hot and dry.
Read more about pruning in the desert here. In summer, never remove more than one-third of your lawn’s height in one mow. Taller grass keeps the soil cool and reduces stress. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil.
Consider skipping overseeding for a healthier Bermuda grass in the spring and summer.
Water is one of the most precious resources, and Xeriscape design allows us to have beautiful yards while conserving water in the desert. With the guides and resources listed above, you can transform your drab zeroscape into a fab Xeriscaped yard. Share your success with us on social media. We’d love to hear from you.
For more information about Xeriscaping and water use in the desert, subscribe to the Water – Use It Wisely newsletter.
What is the difference in Zeroscaping and Xeriscaping?
Lush green yards are not something you will often find in the area due to the lack of water to maintain a healthy yard. Many residents are turning to a zeroscape or xeriscape yard to help keep their yards looking nice but not utilizing more than their share of the water.
I always thought that Zeroscaping and Xeriscaping were the same thing, but there is a difference.
What is Zeroscaping?
Zeroscaping uses the philosophy of low-water landscaping, focusing on native plants and succulents. Many times rocks and gravel are used to create scenery around plants. This often includes a great deal of cacti. Due to the drought that New Mexico has seen for the past few years, zeroscaping is encouraged to help preserve water.
Because zeroscaping focuses on native plants, it gives a natural look, where as non-native plants can look artificial. Placing non-native plants in your yard may require more work to help them thrive because they are not accustomed to the conditions.
One of the perks of a zeroscape backyard is the minimal effort they take to maintain. The initial set up requires a lot of work and detailed planning, however maintenance after that normally consists of just weed control.
What is Xeriscaping?
Xeriscaping (pronounced zeer-i-scape) focuses on creating beautiful gardens in dry and harsh landscapes.
While many times the plants used are native to the area, the main purpose of a xeriscape garden is to utilize plants that are resistant to a drought. Many times, a xeriscape garden is less work to maintain than a traditional garden or lawn.
A properly designed xeriscape yard is planned utilizing appropriate planting design, soil grading and mulching and takes full advantage of rainfall retention.
In a traditional garden, the ornamental plants used may not survive when water restrictions are implemented. Xeriscape plants are designed to thrive throughout these periods. Although the plants do need to be watered, you can install a drip system or water by hand to save water from being water being thrown into the air by a oscillating sprinkler.
Which type of landscaping should I use?
Either type of landscaping is good for the Albuquerque area. The most important thing to remember when landscaping your yard is that New Mexico has a lot of direct sunlight and harsh water restrictions. Both zeroscape and xeriscape are a good bet for any home here.
Zero Scape or Xeriscape? | Landscaping
Xeriscape, which was coined by Nancy Leavitt in the 1980’s, is a blend of the Greek word “Xeros”, which means dry or arid habitats and the term “landscape”, the visible features of an area of land. Xeriscape literally means dry landscape or dry-scape. The “Xeriscape” landscaping method, originally used in the western regions of the United States, was created particularly for arid and semiarid climates because it uses water-wise designs and drought-tolerant plants, mulch or stone, and minimal supplemental irrigation. That practice has become the typical term for water efficient landscaping using specific plants and ground cover suitable for the climate to create a visually attractive landscape that is at least partially self-maintaining and uses little or no irrigation water. If correctly designed and maintained, a Xeriscape can effortlessly consume less than half the water of a conventional landscape and, once established, Xeriscape should require less maintenance, water, and time.
Achieving Xeriscaping often means replacing turf/lawn with soil, rocks, mulch, and drought-tolerant native plants. Drought-tolerant plants are especially adapted to arid climates and are called xerophytes.
Xerophytic plants often have less overall surface area than other plants, reducing the area that is exposed to the air and reducing water loss through evaporation.
They may also have smaller leaves or fewer branches than other plants.
Some xerophytes have tiny hairs on their surfaces to provide a wind break and reduce air flow, thus reducing the rate of dehydration and enabling them to maintain a layer humidity around them.
Succulents, a variety of xerophyte, have leaves coated with a powdery white wax; that wax and the color of the plants skin helps reflect sunlight and diminish water evaporation.
Xerophytes are adapted to conserve water and store their own water during dry periods, and can survive long periods of extreme dryness with their deep spreading roots.
The Xeriscape landscaping philosophy uses as many native, drought-resistant plants as possible and arranges them in efficient, water-saving ways, which also result in saving money and time. Because of those financial and environmental benefits, Xeriscaping has grown in popularity for both commercial and residential properties.
Xeriscape vs. Zeroscape
Posted by Unknown on 2:50 PM
Often the terms “zeroscape” and “xeriscape” are used
interchangibly. However, there are some huge
differences when put to use.
refers to a mostly concrete, stone or gravel in place of a traditional
landscape design. It can even mean that no landscaping has been done.
Xeriscape is a
method of landscape design that minimizes the amount of additional water used
by combining native plants and trees, as well as rock work, to create beautiful
Xeriscape designs are especially used in dry regions and areas
that don’t grow Kentucky Bluegrass well. To have the most impact with a
xeriscaped yard, use trees and plants native to the area.
To view our plant
list, click here.
Benefits of having a xeriscaped
- Saving Water – You rarely need to water your
- Less Maintenance – You occasionally have to prune and pull weeds. Not as often as a traditional landscape design.
- No Fertilizers and Pesticides – By using plants
and trees native to the area, you eliminate the need for fertilizers and
pesticides, which can be harmful to children and pets.
- Increased Property Value – A good design can
significantly increase property values and offset the initial cost of installation.
- Provides Wildlife Habitat – The use of native
trees, plants and shrubs provide a familiar and varied habitat for local
Call Native Trees and
Landscaping to discuss a xeriscape landscape design at (575) 758 – 0077.
Love your yard again!
This Is What to Expect With Xeriscape Landscaping
Xeriscape landscaping or, simply, “xeriscaping,” by definition is landscaping designed specifically for areas that are susceptible to drought, or for properties where water conservation is practiced. Derived from the Greek xeros meaning “dry,” the term means literally “dry landscape.”
Note that “xeriscape” is pronounced as if it began with the letter, Z, which sometimes leads to the misspelling, “zeroscape” (as if it signified “zero landscaping”).
This is unfortunate, because the word, “zero” leads the mind to think of “nothing”—in this case, a landscape with nothing in it (or nothing pretty, at least).
But xeriscape landscaping techniques need not result in a “big zero” for landscape design aesthetics.
In fact, as most people employ the term, xeriscape landscaping need not be limited to desert plants that are about as attractive as barbed wire (for example, certain kinds of cactus and succulent plants).
Rather, the practice allows you (in non-desert climates, at least) to use a wide variety of attractive plants but insists on common-sense measures that will help conserve water, such as grouping plants with similar water requirements together.
Not only does this practice save you money, but it can also save your plants since many a plant is killed through over-watering. So even if you are not trying to save water, it makes sense to segregate “thirsty” plants from those that want far less water.
A common element in xeriscape landscaping is the reduction of lawn grass areas since lawn grass is often one of the worst offenders against water conservation. Another widespread tactic is the deployment of native plants since they are adapted to the local climate and consequently require less human-supplied water.
To summarize, then, think of the practice of xeriscaping as zeroing in on the following:
- What plants you choose to grow.
- What plants you avoid growing (most notably, lawn grass).
- How you organize your plants.
Plants most suited to xeriscape landscaping are sometimes referred to as “xeric” plants. These are plants with low water requirements and that therefore handle drought well. Of course, drought-tolerance is relative.
A plant considered drought-tolerant in the northeastern United States. might be baked to a crisp in desert country. So your options will be increased in the former region and reduced in the latter.
Keep that consideration in mind as you browse the following resources on drought-resistant plants:
- Drought-tolerant trees
- Drought-tolerant shrubs
- Drought-tolerant ground covers
Here are some colorful choices from these and other plant categories:
Bluebeard, which is a tall plant (and, technically, a shrub, but often treated as a perennial), will dominate the back row, where it will not obscure shorter plants (the back row would be the one up against a fence or a house wall).
The middle row is staggered with drought-resistant perennials of intermediate heights: Moonbeam coreopsis, coneflowers, and 'Autumn Joy' sedum. At its back, and punctuating the whole ensemble as a focal point, is a tall ornamental grass, such as maiden grass.
Finally, mounds of a shorter, drought-resistant ornamental grass (such as blue fescue grass) variety are staggered with lamb's ears to comprise the front row.
How Xeriscaping Works
To begin, we'll look at the word itself: Xeriscape. Pronounced “zeer-i-scape,” it's a combination of two Greek words: “xeros” (dry) and “scape” (view). The concept was coined and trademarked by Denver Water, the city of Denver's water department, during a difficult drought period in the late '70s and early '80s.
Xeriscaping is a landscaping philosophy that uses as many native, drought-resistant plants as possible and arranges them in efficient, water-saving ways.
With the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water predicting that 36 states will experience water shortages by 2013, the idea of Xeriscaping is spreading rapidly to park and gardening center staff as a smart way to save on water [source: EPA].
Despite this, many people don't know what Xeriscaping is. Those who have never heard the name may already know its techniques, because its principles are commonly used in landscaping and often work well.
Some people who are aware of the concept mistakenly refer to it as “zero-scape,” as in the use of no water.
Others have a negative perception of Xeriscaping, thinking that the practice involves the use of barren, rocky landscapes and a few cacti.
As it turns out, Xeriscaping doesn't have to mean a bunch of tumbleweed from the southwest — because it's open to the use of native plants, a landscaper can select a myriad of plant varieties from his region. A Xeriscaped lawn can look as attractive and colorful as a regular one. If used effectively, the official Denver Water Web site claims Xeriscaping can reduce water use for landscapes by 60 percent or more.
Xeriscaping can also save money on future maintenance. Although it may cost more to plan and convert a current landscape into a Xeriscaped one, the operational costs are much lower. The landscape in the above photo, for instance, cost $14,000 to convert, but in two years it nearly paid for itself — it saves $6,000 a year in water.
There are seven essential principles to Xeriscaping — appropriate planning and design, soil improvement, plant selection, practical turf areas, watering, use of mulch and maintenance. We'll talk a little about each one.
To learn about the seven principles of Xeriscaping, read the next page.