Guide to Xeriscape Landscaping

How to use xeriscaping to save water and money in arid climates

Xeriscape garden with tall grasses and trimmed bushes

The Spruce / Adelyn Duchala

Xeriscape landscaping or, "xeriscaping," by definition is landscaping designed specifically for areas that are susceptible to drought, or for properties where water conservation is practiced. Derived from the Greek word xeros, meaning "dry," the term means literally "dry landscape." Simply put, xeriscape landscaping is a type of gardening that uses a minimal amount of water to thrive. Though it is practiced in hot and arid climates, xeriscaping has evolved to become useful in many types of climates that need to protect precious water sources. In addition, xeriscaping techniques are often planned with the same landscape design aesthetics as any other type of garden.

Xeriscape Benefits

Besides saving water, xeriscape landscaping includes one major factor: the reduction of lawn grass areas since lawn grass is often one of the worst offenders against water conservation. The benefits of eliminating a lawn in favor of a low-maintenance xeriscape include:

  • Saving money on automatic lawn irrigation services and systems.
  • Eliminating chemicals and lawn pest control tactics used to upkeep a lush lawn.
  • Reducing worries of a browning lawn.
  • Less labor and time are needed to maintain a lawn when you xeriscape.

How to Practice Xeriscape Landscaping

The guiding principles of xeriscaping are practical and not difficult to follow to conserve water. When you are practicing xeriscaping, focus on four critical methods that create a successful xeriscape:

Choose Appropriate Plants

The practice of xeriscape landscaping does not need to be limited to desert plants, such as cactus and succulent plants. You can practice xeriscaping with a wide variety of attractive plants that are drought-tolerant and naturally conserve water. Deploy native plants in a xeriscape garden since they are adapted to the local climate and consequently require less human-supplied water.

Reduce or Eliminate Turf Grass

Xeriscape landscaping is usually void of turf grass in favor of plantings and ornamental grasses. Areas of lawn are typically transformed into flower beds, hardscapes, or rock gardens.

Organize Plants With Similar Needs

Group plants with similar water requirements together. Segregating "thirsty" plants from those that want far less water saves you money and reduces the probability of over-watering less needy plants.

Improve the Soil

Well-draining soil is key to a successful xeriscape. Poor dry soil lacks organic matter which means it can't absorb or drain water well. Drought-tolerant plants do not do well in soggy soil. Those conditions can make even drought-tolerant plants suffer, though some xeriscape-friendly plants may even prefer poor, dry, and rocky soil. Amend your soil with compost and organic matter so that it's well-draining. Mulching a xeriscape garden is also another preferred way to hold the right amount of moisture in the soil. On the other hand, some drought-tolerant plants prefer poor, dry, and rocky soil.

Best Plants for Xeriscapes

Plants most suited to xeriscape landscaping are sometimes referred to as "xeric" plants. These are plants with low water requirements that handle drought well. Of course, drought tolerance is relative. A plant considered drought-tolerant in the northeastern United States might be baked to a crisp in desert country. Keep that consideration in mind as you browse the following resources on drought-resistant plants when planning a xeriscape:

Here are some specific colorful choices from various plant categories:

There are many flowers suitable for xeriscape landscaping. Organizing a flower bed for a xeriscape is not difficult. Here's an example:

  • Back row: Bluebeard, which is a tall plant (and, technically, a shrub, but often treated as a perennial), can dominate the back row, where it will not obscure shorter plants. The back row would be the one up against a fence or a house wall. Punctuate the whole ensemble with a focal point created by a tall ornamental grass, such as maiden grass.
  • Middle row: Stagger drought-resistant perennials of intermediate heights, such as Moonbeam coreopsis, coneflowers, and 'Autumn Joy' sedum.
  • Front row: Plant mounds of a shorter, drought-resistant ornamental grass (such as blue fescue grass) variety are staggered with lamb's ears to comprise the front row.

Tips for Xeriscape Landscaping

Here are three more important tips for xeriscape landscaping:

  • Maintain your xeriscape by consistently pulling weeds, deadheading flowers, and eliminating dead plant debris to keep your landscape healthy.
  • Using rain barrels to corral water for your xeriscape is another way to efficiently use nature's resources. You can make a DIY version or buy one that's easy to set up.
  • When watering a xeriscape, do so in the morning when it's cooler. The water won't evaporate as easily as it does under the heat of the sun.
  • What is the difference between xeriscape and zeroscape?

    Xeriscape is often mispronounced as "zeroscape," which implies that zero landscaping is necessary. However, there is a loose concept called zeroscape that differs from xeriscape. Zeroscape typically means a yard is filled with hardscaping, rocks, gravel, and dirt instead of plantings.

  • Is xeriscaping cheaper than grass?

    Upon the initial design and implementation of a xeriscape garden, it may seem like xeriscaping is not cheaper than maintaining a lawn. You will see the cost benefits over time as the garden will require almost no watering, as opposed to lawns, which take an enormous amount of watering to keep them alive and growing.

  • What are two disadvantages of using xeriscaping in landscaping?

    There's a lot of labor required to install a xeriscape. Another con of xeriscaping is the sparse or minimalistic look of a landscape that many people may not be used to seeing. In addition, if you plan to sell your home, the lack of a green lawn may deter some potential buyers.

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