When you picture a well-planned, and well-maintained yard, what do you see? If you’re like most of us, you probably picture a wide lawn, bordered with some perennial flowers, (surely petunias and pansies) and a tall tree on one side.
Well, I think it’s time to start asking… why? Why is this the classic image? It doesn’t suit the needs of most homeowners, and it certainly doesn’t suit the needs of most ecosystems.
Xeriscaping is all about re-imagining this overdone design. It’s about using creativity to make better yardscapes that minimize the negative impact on the environment. For most of North America, about 50% of household water use is simply to maintain the yard. It doesn’t have to be that way! Especially during the summer months, you can cut your water bill in half by incorporating xeriscaping principles into your yard design.
The primary objective of xeriscaping is to save water, but hear me out before you start picturing gravel and cactus surrounding a parched-looking house. Xeriscaping is more than that. In fact, most people won’t notice that your xeriscaped landscaping is saving water. All they’ll see is a functional, creative, and well-thought-out design that looks better than all your neighbors’ yards during the summer. No one but you know will know that you’re paying half as much in water bills each month.
Here are four basic principles of xeriscaped yards. Take a close look and think about what you can incorporate into your yard.
1: Use Native Plants
Native plants usually need less water. They thrive with minimal care since they’re happy in the environment that they have. They like the sun levels, and they are resistant to disease and harmful insects. One more amazing benefit of landscaping with native species is that you help provide a natural habitat, and food, for native insects and animals.
The importance of native species is especially evident in the choice of grass. Few people realize that there are different options available for your lawn. Some can take more heat, some need more watering. Don’t just opt for the traditional Kentucky Bluegrass. Do your research.
The best xeriscaping plans are inspired by beautiful native plants. Think about how unique and interesting your yard would look if it were bordered by sagebrush and flax flowers. In sections of the lawn that you never use, consider using a different kind of cover… perhaps creepers and vines that bloom in the spring.
2: Treat Your Soil
Soil is made up of three basic components: silt, clay, and sand. Most soil is a mix of two or more types. A proper loam that most plants love is a mix of all three. Soil with high levels of clay will hold water for a long time. Sandy soil, on the other hand, has a lot of drainage. If your soil is too sandy to hold the water your plants need, or has enough clay to promote disease and root rot, you might need to mix your soil in order to create the right growing conditions for the plants you want in your yard.
3: Plan Thoughtfully and Creatively
A normal landscape plan and a xeriscaped plan can have all of the same plants, and yet the xeriscaped one is much more water-efficient due solely to the placement of the plants. For example, you’ve surely noticed how the grass under a shady tree in the summer does better than the grass exposed to full sunshine all day. This is a trick that you can use to your advantage in a xeriscaped yard.
Here are more aspects of creative design that can help make your yard more water-efficient:
Most yards have an area where water tends to pool. It might be more protected by architectural structures like pergolas or trees, or it might be at a comparatively low elevation. Maximize this space by planting your more thirsty plants there, creating a beautiful centerpiece for the eye without having to increase your water expenditure. Speaking of elevation, consider terraces or retaining walls that can make the most of the natural contours of the yard. Not only does this maximize your water usage, but it also adds visual interest by changing the levels in your yard.
Dead zones in your yard are areas that no one sees. They might be out of the way, or they might simply be blocked by other plants. These areas should be as water-efficient as possible. Use drought-resistant plants, and consider drip irrigation. Why waste gallons a day on an area that no one sees or uses?
Plan your turf and lawn areas thoroughly. Often, we use grass as a default. It’s time to rethink that. One 6×6 patch of grass will guzzle over 20 gallons of water every time that you water. If you’re using that lawn for design and functionality, it’s worth it. But if not, consider an alternative groundcover.
4: Proper Maintenance
Proper maintenance includes a few things. First of all, proper watering encourages deep roots that take advantage of the natural water table instead of piped-in water you have to pay for. By “proper watering” I mean watering deeply and infrequently: about an inch of water, once or twice a week. Deep roots are also more resistant to disease, weather, and scorching. Deep roots are especially important for trees, since they’ll increase its stability and balance.
Another important maintenance aspect is mulching. Mulching guards the ground soil from evaporation and allows your plants to make the most of the water they’re given. Mulching can also add design and polish to your yard.
Proper pruning is the last maintenance principle you’ll need to adhere to to make your landscape look and perform its best. Overgrowth can cause plants to gobble up more than their share of resources. Even worse, it can cause plants to look leggy and ugly. Understand the pruning needs of each plant in your yard and set some time aside to tend to them every year.