Xeriscaping is environmentally friendly landscaping that uses native and drought-tolerant plants, shrubs, and ground cover. The word xeriscape is a combination of the Greek word xeros (meaning "dry") and landscape.
How to practice xeriscaping
Xeriscaping isn't "zero-scaping"—and it's not just rocks and cacti. Although originally developed for a desert climate, the principles of xeriscaping can be practiced anywhere to save on unnecessary irrigation.
The seven basic principles of xeriscaping
Follow these seven guidelines to create a drought-tolerant landscape.
- Start with a landscape design that conserves water. Group together plants with similar moisture needs, eliminating the potential for overwatering. Plant your landscape so that water may be used sparingly.
- Create practical turf areas. While you don't need to eliminate your lawn altogether, you may want to reduce the size of your lawn, plant a grass that's more suitable to your climate, or replace part of your lawn with a ground cover.
- Select plants that need less water.
- Use organic soil amendments.
- Apply mulches to reduce water evaporation and prevent erosion.
- Choose the correct watering system.
- Maintain your landscape with proper mowing, pest control, and soil aeration.
What xeriscaping isn't
The concept of xeriscaping is often misunderstood. Here are a few things xeriscaping isn't:
- Xeriscaping doesn't mean eliminating irrigation altogether. Limited areas of highly-watered landscape are still consistent with wise water use.
- Xeriscaping isn't just rocks and gravel. Xeric rock gardens can be beautiful, but in xeriscaping using some water in controlled amounts and locations in perfectly acceptable.
- Xeriscaping doesn't mean "no lawn"—it's "less-lawn" rather than "lawn-less." Some lawn can be consistent with wise water use.
- Xeriscape isn't just native plants. Native plants are great, but non-invasive, drought-resistant introduced plants that are suited to the local climate, are welcome additions.
- Xeriscaping isn't just cacti. Many flowering perennials, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees are well-suited to a water-thrifty landscape.
Below are just a few beautiful, hardy, water-saving perennials to get you started.
- Agave (Century plant), most zones 8 to 10
- Balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), zones 3 to 8
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia species), zones vary
- Coreopsis species
- Campanula species (Campanula persicifolia), zones 3-7
- Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrids, "Wild sunflower"), zones 3 to 10
- Flag iris species, zones vary
- Goldenrod (Solidago species), zones 3 to 9
- Heliopsis (Heliospsis helianthoides), zones 2-9
- Peony (Paeonia lactiflora), zones 3 to 7
- Poppy (Papaver species), zones vary
- Sedum species, zones 2 to 9
- Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum Dentranthema), most zones 4 to 10
- Spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana), zones 3 to 9
- Yucca species, zones vary
These flowering bulbs are just a few of the good choices to add to your water-wise garden.
- Crocus species, zones 3 to 8
- Daffodil (Narcissus species), zones 2 to 10
- Grape hyacinth (Muscari species), zones 2 to 8
- Lily (Lilium species, "Asian lily," "tiger lily," "Turk's cap"), zones 3 to 10
Don't forget about shrubs when choosing plants for your xeriscape. Here are a few common shrubs that don't require much water.
- Forsythia species, zones 4 to 8
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera species), zones vary
- Juniper (Juniperus species), zones vary
- Lilac (Syringa species), zones 3 to 8
- Rose (Rosa species, "wild rose"), zones vary
For ideas on drought-tolerant grasses and ground covers, see Plant a "no-lawn" alternative.
Before you begin...
Find out your climate zone and what types of drought-tolerant plants grow well in your area Cooperative Extension System Office.
Another excellent resource for native plants is eNature http://www.enature.com/native_invasive/, which allows you to input your state and it will suggest native plants.
The seed company Burpee http://www.burpee.com/ also allows you to search for plants best suited to your zone. You can purchase seeds directly from the site.
To learn about grass that is most suited to your climate, check out this site: http://www.greatlandscapingideas.com/grassseed.html
Find it! Xeriscaping books, and drought-tolerant plants, and seeds
Cacti.Com is a Southern California-based web nursery specializing in landscaping succulents. It offers a wide variety of plants including cacti, aloes, agaves, euphorbias, and many other drought-tolerant materials.
Low-water and native plants great for the western gardener. Choices include ornamental grasses, shrubs, conifers, cacti, succulents, groundcovers, perennials, low-water grass seed, planned gardens, and more.
The Xeriscape Handbook is a how-to guide to natural, resource-wise gardening. It's one of a series of books from Fulcrum Publishing that includes the Xeriscape Plant Guide and the Xeriscape Color Guide.
Yucca Do Nursery specializes in drought- and heat-tolerant plants and trees, with over 300 plants to choose from. Their offerings include palms, cyads, shrubs, vines, bromeliads, bulbs, succulents, perennials, ferns, and grasses.
Practicing xeriscaping helps you go green because…
- It saves precious water.
- It cuts down on air and water pollution caused by lawn mowing and fertilizing.
- It creates a more diverse habitat for wildlife.
The term xeriscaping was coined in 1981 by Nancy Leavitt, an environmental planner with the Denver Water Department. While water supplies were being depleted in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, more than 50 percent of the public water supply was being used to irrigate landscapes.
Drought isn't just a fact of life in the western United States: the spring of 1999 was the driest spring in the Northeast since weather records began.
The future of water, and consequently food (due to the need for irrigation) is highly unpredictable. Over 1 billion people around the world don't have enough potable water to meet minimum health and income requirements.
The United Nations projects that the human need for water could double over the next 50 years. While factors such as weather are uncontrollable, other critical factors can be affected by the collective choices of the world's people, including allocation of water for personal use.
There are about 31.6 million acres of turf—almost 50,000 square miles—in the US. Lawns (including residential and commercial lawns, as well as golf courses) could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, occupying three times more land than is devoted to irrigated corn. About 200 gallons of fresh water per person per day is required to provide adequate water for the nation’s lawn surface area.
Americans use tens of thousands of gallons of water on their lawns, gardens, and landscape plantings every year. Outdoor landscape watering accounts for 20 to 50 percent of all residential water use in the US (more in some areas of the country). An average suburban lawn uses 10,000 gallons of water per year over that provided by rainfall. One hour of lawn watering uses about 220 gallons of water. Appropriate watering practices can reduce lawn water consumption by 20 to 50 percent on the average, while maintaining or even improving the healthiness of your lawn.
Tax breaks and subsidies
Many communities impose restrictions on outdoor watering in order to conserve water. In San Antonio, Texas, the local water district found a way to get people to want to comply—they pay them. Their Seasonal Irrigation Program (SIP) has issued more than $200,000 in rebates since it began. Home- and business-owners earn rebates by following landscape guidelines. A grass lawn can make up no more than 50 percent of the landscape. Water-hungry St. Augustine grass is prohibited, while drought-resistant Bermuda, buffalo, and zoysia grasses are permitted.
- aeration: A way of introducing air into compacted soil.
- xeric: Requiring only a small amount of moisture
- xeriscape: A landscaping method originally developed for arid and semiarid climates that utilizes water-conserving techniques (as the use of drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation).
- Cooperative Extension System Offices Contact your local Cooperative Extension Office for advice on what drought-tolerant plants grow best in your area.
- Find Articles - Water-smart landscapes: apply the principles of xeriscaping
- Colorado WaterWise Council - What is Xeriscape?
- Colorado WaterWise Council - What is Xeriscape? (Paraphrased from comments made by Jim Knopf of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) of Boulder, Colorado
- Bennett, Jennifer (2005). Dryland Gardening. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books: 97-132
- Bennett, Jennifer (2005) Dryland Gardening. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books: 83-94
- Bennett, Jennifer (2005) Dryland Gardening. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books: 155-178
- Bennett, Jennifer (2005) Dryland Gardening. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books: 11
- Highbeam Encyclopedia - Will the world run dry? Global water and food security
- The New York Academy of Sciences - A Course in Good Water
- US National Aeronautics and Space Administration Earth Observatory - Looking for Lawns
- The National Audubon Society - Conserve Water
- Rogers Water Utilities - Water Statistics
- The Rocky Mountain Institute - Water Efficiency for Your Home
- Tukey, Paul (2006) The Organic Lawn Care Manual. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing: 167