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Xeriscape Landscaping: A Lesson in Water Conservation

Written by Mindy on November 9th, 2011

Xeriscape landscaping was coined in 1978 in Denver, Colorado. Its creation was due to the high demand for landscaped yards and the conflict it created for water use. Xeriscape landscaping is also known as water-wise or water-smart landscaping depending on the area of the country you live in.

The backbone of xeriscape landscaping begins with seven principles. These are planning and design, soil analysis, practical turf areas, appropriate plant choices, efficient irrigation, use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance.

Planning and Design

Planning and design starts out with drawing out your present landscape. Include in this plan existing hardscapes, structures, shrubs, trees, and grass areas. Once this is done and before you change your design, consider ones budget, appearance, function, time and/or maintance and water requirements.

Budget

Before jumping into a whole new landscape plan, one must consider how much they are willing or are able to spend. A landscape plan can be design to occur in stages and in doing so can reduce the stress on the budget. Just make sure to plainly indicate on the plan the stages of the new design.

Appearance

It is easier to continue a style then to try to incorporate a whole new look into a current landscape. If the present design is formal, try to continue with this theme. If you want a whole new look, try to find ways of including existing plant material that is not a water hog.

Function

This is a component of many landscapes that people tend to forget. Look at your family situation and the uses your landscape serve. Examples of uses include a play area for children, adult entertaining area, and vegetable garden space along with flower gardens.

As a gardener’s family situation changes so does the function of the green space.

Time and/or Maintenance

These considerations are tied together. If you have little time to devote to your landscaping, then maintenance can be a problem. A low maintenance design that utilizes native species is in order. If, on the other hand, you have a lot of extra time on your hands, a more labor-intensive design may be in order. But keep in though that most labor-intensive designs are expensive.

Water Requirements

When looking at water requirements consider the present design and how changes in the design will affect water use.

Soil Analysis

The next step in this process is to look at ones soil. This is done by a soil test that can be obtained from your local extension office. As a general rule, one should add four to six inches of organic material to shrub and flowerbeds. This material includes peat, rice hulls, and shredded pine bark. Adding this material will increase a soil’s ability to absorb and store water.

Practical Turf Areas

Spaces covered in turf require a large amount of water to remain healthy and green. To reduce this need requires a two-prong approach. The first approach is to plan the turf area wisely. Do not plan to use turf in narrow spaces such as those along sidewalks. The second approach requires one to know their grass of choice. Many gardeners mow their grass too often. Each variety of grass has its own height requirement. As an example, St. Augustine grass and buffalo grass require a 3-inch height, Zoysia grass requires a 2-inch, and Bermuda grass a 1-inch.

Appropriate Plant Choices

Choosing the correct plants for your landscape is an important component to a successful xeriscape. Native species are always a good choice. They have developed strategies over time to deal with their native environment. But to ensure this adaptation, make sure to purchase locally grown native plants. These plants not only have developed strategies to deal with their native environment but also strategies for dealing with local microclimate issues.

While one may desire commonly used exotics that are seen around your neighborhood, keep in mind though that there is an equally beautiful native species.

Efficient Irrigation

Irrigation systems can cause water to be wasted. This waste can be created by lack of planning, type of irrigation system, improper spray head adjustment and/or watering time.

The first step is developing a proper irrigation system consists of planning. Develop an irrigation system by zones (turf, groundcovers, trees, shrubs and/or flowerbeds. Next consider the type of system. Sprinkler irrigation comes in two types. The hose end sprinkler type and permanent type. Both of these will irrigate but normally they are inefficient. To make them more efficient, adjust the sprinkler heads so that large droplets are released instead of a fine mist. This mist tends to evaporate and/or drift away before it can reach the plants. Drip irrigation is the best form of irrigation. It creates a water source that is pumped through the system at low pressure. As the water goes through the system, it is pumped into emitters, bubblers or spray heads that are placed around each plant. Regardless of which form of irrigation is used, always plan to water the plants between late evening and mid morning. This will reduce the chance of water being evaporated before the plants can use it.

Use of Mulches

Using mulch is an inexpensive way of conserving soil moisture. It comes in many different forms and includes landscape cloth, wood chips, glass chips, and even grass and/or leaf clippings. Do not be tempted to use plastic sheeting material. While this material will conserve moisture, it will prevent the soil from breathing. To be effective though, the mulch needs to be at least 3-inches deep and no deeper than 5-inches. When using this approach, keep in mind that you will need to replenish organic mulch every year.

Appropriate Maintenance

To conserve the most water possible, the gardener must maintain their landscape. This includes but is not limited to weeding, pruning, properly fertilizing, controlling pests and adjusting the irrigation system when needed. A healthy landscape utilizes resources to their maximum without waste.

Xeriscaping landscaping is great alternative to the traditional landscape design. While your local area may not suffer from water shortages, it is still a useful technique that is cost effective in the long run, can reduce ones carbon footprint, and can reduce the amount of work needed compared to other forms of landscape.

 

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