Xeriscaping Basics

You might not expect a site about patio covers and related patio accessories to be concerned much with principles regarding garden and landscape design.  In fact, you’re probably familiar with xeriscaping or you wouldn’t have found our site and this article you’re about to read, but just in case you stumbled here in some other way, let’s take a moment to talk about what xeriscaping is first. To be fair, it means slightly different things depending on where you live in the country and what climate zone you are in, but it is basically a way of conserving water.

The term itself comes from the Greek word “xeros” mean dry. The concept of xeriscape landscaping is traced back to Denver, Colorado in the early 1980s. Because of dry conditions and drought status, water rations were put into place and many homeowners lost their lush landscapes. The idea of water conservation is what drives this type of landscape design.

Here is an example of a native Texas xeriscape with a small turf area.

This type of landscaping can be used with a variety of patio design ideas to create an even more harmonious blend of the hardscape elements of the patio structure, the concrete or paver floor and the softer, greener side of things.  As such, you shouldn’t consider this way of landscaping a barren look or that you cannot have any green in your yard. At Eartheasy.com, they’ve created a list of the seven principles of xeriscaping highlighting the benefits that include: saving water, increasing property values, less maintenance, no pesticides or fertilizers, pollution free and allows for wildlife habitat.  Photo credit

These seven principles are: (1) water conservation, (2) soil improvement, (3) create limited turf areas, (4) use appropriate plants, (5) mulch, (6) irrigate and (7) maintaining your landscape. Let’s talk a little bit about these concepts and why they are great landscaping ideas for any climate.

Since all of the principles embrace the notion of saving water, we’ll look at the others to give some better information and details regarding specific xeriscaping goals. In terms of soil improvement, the idea is that the ideal soil both drains quickly and retains moisture. This is true of any area besides where succulents or cacti are concerned. These plants prefer a leaner soil. In order to achieve the ideal soil as mentioned, compost is one of the best additions you can use. Many municipalities offer programs that will give you a compost bin or unit that you can use in your backyard. It can reduce kitchen waste and landscape trimmings, converting them into rich soil naturally.

The idea with creating limited turf areas is that these are areas that will use much water. Ask your local garden or nursery about seeds or grasses that will consume less if you wish to overseed a dormant grass variety in the winter. Similarly, your nursery or local landscape designer will be able to guide you to use the most appropriate plants for your climate. The idea is that these plants will be more likely to thrive in your zone without the use of excess water. You will not see many grasses growing in the middle of the desert, but many homeowners living in the desert southwest still plant grass in their front and backyards because they like the look. Small patches of turf are fine, but using large areas of grass in places where it doesn’t grow native is a waste of natural resources and a landscaping challenge as well.

Succulents like these do not require as much water and prefer more 'lean' soils.

Mulch can help you grow your plants with less water waste. The mulch can be wood chips, course compost, pine needles, leaves and other organic materials that will provide your plants with more protection from moisture escape, will maintain temperatures at the delicate root area and can help with decreasing erosion as well as controlling weeds. It should be applied several inches thick for best results.  Photo credit

While the term irrigation conjures up a lot of water soaking a field, this is actually not the goal. It is much better to use a drip system or soaker hose to allow for water to slowly get into the soil and penetrate more deeply. This water is much more easily absorbed by the plants’ roots and will also slow evaporation and moisture loss.

Finally, think about the many ways that xeriscaping could help you reduce the amount of maintenance you need to do on your landscape. We all enjoy a thriving and colorful landscape, but the upkeep can be daunting. In this same vain, what about that pool landscape? You don’t want to have to be cleaning leaves and such out of your pool or skimmer every day or two just to enjoy some green. In fact, swimming pool landscaping is one of the best areas to utilize these xeriscaping principles.

To read more about xeriscaping and the ideas behind it, we recommend the:

Xeriscape Handbook: A How-to Guide to Natural Resource-Wise Gardening

The more you begin to think about ways to have your landscape function more in harmony with the natural climate of the area in which you live, the better you will enjoy less costly, easier to maintain landscaping elements. Enjoy.

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