A Guide to Xeriscaping: Making Every Drop of Water Count

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  • October 24, 2018

Lawns and gardens cover thousands of kilometers of land area across Australia. Every week these landscapes need about 15 litres of water per square meter to remain healthy and this can increase the property owner’s water bill by 30%.

Xeriscaping was designed to revert this situation and it has been successful. Xeriscaping decreases or eliminates the amount of irrigation that a landscape needs, conserves natural resources and saves property owners dollars and cents on every water bill.

The Beginning of Xeriscaping

In 1981, Jim Grabow the president of a landscaping association in the United States began a program to teach the public that it was possible to have an attractive landscape and also conserve water.

To prove his point, Grabow and his associates studied rainfall, water runoff and evaporation in their area. They then built a demonstration garden with a stunning landscape that needed almost no supplemental watering. Nancy Leavitt, one of Grabow’s colleagues, combined the Greek word xeros, which means dry, with the word landscape and called this new form of landscaping xeriscaping.

Advantages of Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping was not an immediate success. Property owners preferred to keep their traditional lawns and exoctic gardens, but xeriscaping gradually broke down these barriers, gained recognition and proved that it has many advantages, including:

• The conservation of water – Xeriscapes, also called water-conserving landscapes, are designed to make every drop of water count. They redirect water runoff, reduce evaporation and overall can use up to 60% less water than a regular landscape.

• Limited maintenance – The average lawn and flower gardens require frequent mowing, watering, weeding and pruning. Xeriscapes require less time and effort to stay beautiful. Their limited lawn areas require less mowing and their slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants need little watering and pruning.

• Very affordable – Xeriscaping is affordable to install and saves property owners money by reducing water bills, as well as by decreasing maintenance expenses.

• Reduces pollution – Lawns and gardens need to be fertilized two or three times a year. Most people apply chemical fertilizers and when their lawns or gardens develop problems, they apply additional chemicals in the form of weed killers, insecticides and fungicides. Xeriscapes naturally need less fertilizer and treatments, which significantly decreases the amount of chemicals that enter the environment.

Fundamental Guidelines of Xeriscaping

Some landscapers incorporate decorative stones and succulents into a landscape and call it xeriscaping, but water-conserving landscaping goes far beyond this. True xeriscaping follows these 6 fundamental guidelines:

1. Water-conserving design – A landscaper must take into account local rainfall, the lay of the land and how water is going to runoff, as well as average temperatures and how they affect evaporation, in order to design an xeriscape that uses water efficiently.

2. Soil amendment – Studying the soil and adjusting it to fit the plants that are going to be used is another important part of xeriscaping. Succulents occasionally need sand or fine gravel in the soil, while many other drought-tolerant plants require high levels of organic matter to help hold humidity near their roots.

3. Appropriate hydrozones – Every piece of land has distinct shady and sunny areas, as well as sections that hold more or less water. Landscapers should use this information to create hydrozones that will allow a xeriscape to fit into the natural environment. A sunny, well-drained hydrozone should have plants that love these conditions, while a shady, humid spot in the yard should be home to plants that need additional moisture and protection from the sun.

4. Covering open ground – Open ground constantly loses water through evaporation and this must be avoided if a xeriscape is going to be successful. Covering open ground with thick layers of organic mulch, such as wood chips and bark, or even inorganic coverings such as plastic sheets and layers of decorative stones, goes a long way towards keeping water in the ground.

5. A wise use of turf – In a regular landscape, the lawn guzzles the most water and also causes the most evaporation. Proper xeriscaping involves decreasing the amount of water that a lawn needs. This can include limiting the size of the lawn and also planting native grasses that will require less watering.

6. Efficient watering – Experienced landscapers are able to design a xeriscape that takes advantage of rainfall and only needs a little supplemental watering. The best way to water a xeriscape is to water deeply and infrequently to encourage the plants to develop deep roots and never water in the heat of the day to prevent evaporation.

Components of a Xeriscape

Xeriscapes are not bare and ugly as some might think. In fact, xeriscapes can include all the attractive components that a regular landscape has, such as:

• A variety of plants – Australia has numerous native flowering plants, ornamental grasses, small trees and even shrubs. All of them are well adapted to Australia’s heat and rainfall and can be planted in a xeriscape.

• Height – Height adds depth to any landscape. A xeriscape can be given height by including plants that grow to different heights, as well as by using terraces and step gardens.

• Points of interest – A point of interest is something beautiful, colorful or curious that attracts the observer’s attention and adds interest or character to the landscape. A natural boulder, a set of ceramic planters, an accent wall made of wood and many other things can be a point of interest in a xeriscape.

• Multipurpose areas – Xeriscapes can be designed with pathways, benches, decks, patios, gazebos and even garden reading nooks. These areas can be used for day to day life and also for entertaining guests.

• Decorative lighting – With decorative lighting, lawns and gardens can be attractive day and night. Xeriscapes are no exception to this rule and can be designed with spot lights on major features, path lights of all types and even well lights that are buried in the ground.

As Jim Grabow predicted, xeriscapes can be beautiful, useful and environmentally friendly all at the same time. If you are thinking of exchanging your traditional landscape for a xeriscape, be sure and find experienced landscapers that can help you design and install a truly water-conserving landscape.