Xeriscaping is still a relatively unknown term, except to the landscape trade.
The term,“xeriscaping” comes from the Greek word for dry (xeros) combined with the word “landscaping". It is a term that became popular in the 1980s as global concern and awareness about water shortages, caused landscape architects to design a specific type of landscape that conserves water – a precious natural resource.
For many, xeriscaping
conjures up a mental picture of a designed landscape consisting of cacti, rocks, and no irrigation - and there are some gardens in very arid parts of the US that look like that.
However, most xeriscapes contain several key elements: fertile topsoil, drought- tolerant, and/or native plants and trees, 3”- 4” of organic mulch, and drip irrigation. An expansive, luscious, green lawn is the one item that is conspicuously missing from the picture. That is because it takes an enormous amount of water to grow an expansive, luscious, green lawn - a practice that is counter to the basic principles of xeriscaping.
The most important element is the plants carefully selected for these “dry” landscapes. Indigenous or native plants are always a good choice for use within their typical growing zones.
Native plants are acclimated to the soil and weather conditions within their growing zone and are more likely to stay alive during periods of drought. Drought- tolerant plants, which can be native plants, are especially tolerant of dry spells. Nevertheless, these plants and natives still need some irrigation to thrive.
Consult the numerous online plant data bases for a list of native and drought- tolerant plants for your growing zone. The data bases will provide information on the mature height and width, lighting, and watering requirements for these plant materials.. Two informative data bases are www.wildflowers.org/plants and www.plants.usda.gov
Earlier, fertile topsoil was mentioned as a key element in xeriscapes. All plants will grow well in soil that is rich in organic matter. Clay soils will drain better and sandy soils will retain water better if a good amount of humus is tilled in to the depth of 8”- 12”. The result is healthier plants that can easily absorb air, water, and nutrients through their root systems.
Covering a xeriscape with a blanket of mulch is essential for water retention. Pinestraw, shredded hardwood, or any other organic mulch should be used instead of rocks, shredded rubber tires, or crushed bricks. Mulch that does not decompose creates heat in the soil and for plant roots – which means that plants will need more water to exist. Another added bonus of decomposing mulch is that it adds humus to the soil.
One last tip to consider, water for a xeriscape can come from a rainwater harvesting system, a drip irrigation system, or from a purple pipe containing gray water. These methods of water conservation can earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points on projects where sustainability is a primary goal.
Based in Atlanta, Olivia Munoz Mickalonis is a service connected disabled veteran, a landscape architect and an expert at using xeriscaping in the landscape designs she creates. To contact Olivia, simply use our ASK THE EXPERT box at the end of this page.
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