The 7 Principles of Xeriscaping
Planning and Design
The fundamental element of Xeriscape design is water conservation.
Landscape designers constantly look for ways to reduce the amount of applied water and to maximize the use of natural precipitation.Before setting pencil to paper, familiarize yourself with the 7 Principles of Xeriscaping and take a tour of your local nurseries to see what drought-resistant plantings are available locally. Using graph paper, draw an aerial view of your property and begin your plan with the following considerations:
~ orient the plot by marking down north, south, east and west. Include any
limiting features such as trees, fences, walkways or structures. Note areas of sun and shade, which will help you establish zones of differing water needs. You'll want to group plants with similar watering needs for efficient water use.
~ study the natural contours and drainage patterns of the land. These countours can be easily developed into terraces, which add visual interest and help reduce soil loss and erosion due to rain or irrigation. Terraces can be as little as 3" and still offer visual appeal; terraces over 12" will require considerable support, such as rock walls or timbers reinforced with steel stakes.
~ consider the planned use of each area within the plot. Areas for seating, walkways, visual barriers, dining or play should be defined and incorporated
into your plan.
~ areas to be left as turf should be designed to be easily mowed. Curved
swaths are usually better than straight runs with sharp turns. Narrow swaths
can be difficult to water with conventional sprinklers.
~ larger plantings, such as shrubs and trees, can be positioned to provide
natural heating and cooling opportunities for adjacent buildings.
2. Soil Improvement
The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape does two things simultaneously: it drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This is achieved by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil and keeping it well aerated. Compost is the ideal organic additive, unless your xeriscape contains many succulents and cacti. These species prefer lean soil.
It may be worthwhile to have your soil tested at a garden center or by using
a home test kit. Most Western soils tend to be alkaline (high pH) and low in
phosphorous. Adding bonemeal and rock phosphate will help.
3. Create Limited Turf Areas
Reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible, while retaining some turf
for open space, functionality and visual appeal. When planting new turf, or
reseeding existing lawns, ask at your garden center for water-saving species
adapted to your area.
4. Use Appropriate Plants
For best results, select plants that are native to your region.
~ use drought-resistant plants. In general, these plants have leaves which are small, thick, glossy, silver-grey or fuzzy - all characteristics which help them save water.
~ select plants for their ultimate size. This reduces pruning maintenance.
~ for hot, dry areas with south and west exposure, use plants which need only a minimum of water. Along north and east-facing slopes and walls, choose plants that like more moisture. Most importantly, don't mix plants withhigh- and low-watering needs in the same planting area.
~ trees help to reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading the soil.
Cover the soil's surface around plants with a mulch, such as leaves, coarse
compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark or gravel. Mulch helps retain soil
moisture and temperature, prevent erosion and block out competing weeds.
Organic mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil, and will need more
applied, "top-dressed", from time to time. To be effective, mulch needs to be
several inches thick. There should be no areas of bare soil.
Water conservation is the goal, so avoid overwatering. Soaker hoses and
drip-irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering for
xeriscapes because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant. This
reduces moisture loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it's best to water deeply and less frequently.
7. Maintain your landscape
Low-maintenance is one of the benefits of xeriscape. Keeping the weeds
from growing up through the mulch may require some attention. Thickening
the layer of mulch will help. Turf areas should not be cut too short - taller
grass is a natural mulch which shades the roots and helps retain moisture.