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Xeriscape Designs and Principles

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 3/1/2010

Xericape designs take careful planning, but once established, xeriscaped yards can be beautiful, unique and low-maintenance gardens. Here are basic principles of zeriscape design and maintenance.

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    How to xeriscape

    Xeriscape is a popular green gardening trend, but the concept is often misunderstood. The word is sometimes mispronounced as "zero-scaping," implying a lifeless yard covered in bark or pebbles. Instead, the term combines xeric and landscaping as the principle of creating a diverse and attractive garden that focuses on minimal water or maintenance.

    Xeriscape designs are most popular in the arid Western United States, but they can be used in most any climate where sprinklers or other regular watering is needed. In arid regions, xeriscape designs focus on drought-resisitant plants that will struggle to survive if they receive too much precipitation in wetter regions.

    Gayle Weinstein, author of "The Xeriscape Handbook: A How-to Guide to Natural, Resource-Wise Gardening" lists at least the following principles of xeriscape design. Here are more tips on each principle

    • Design the landscape while considering watering and maintenance. You might consider hiring a professional or at least spending some time planning and designing a xeriscape garden. On a sloped area, consider terracing to help water soak in, instead of running off. Xeric ground cover plants can also inhibit runoff and create a simple and beautiful surface. Here is a list of attractive ground cover plants. Xeriscape designs also can include pathways between plant types to ease watering and weeding.
    • Minimize turf lawns and other water-heavy areas. Even xeriscape fans sometimes want to keep a small patch of lawn for playing, sunbathing or simply a traditional look. If you keep some bluegrass turf, keep it close to the house to maximize traffic, and avoid small patches or strips that will be difficult to water.
    • Boost soil fertility with aeration and natural fertilizers. Thoroughly till the soil and add compost or other organic material before planting the garden. This will help conserve water while promoting healthy plant growth. It is especially important before starting the garden because a good xeriscape design is predominantly perennial plants, so there won't be a chance to till the soil later.
    • Choose the right plants for the climate. Talk to a local landscaper or garden center. If you live in an arid climate, Colorado's Plant Select program has a long list of xeric plants with photos and gardening information about each one.
    • Mulch the soil and add groundcover to reduce inhibit evaporation, erosion and weed growth. Wood chips, bark and other mulch comes in a variety of colors and nicely covers the dirt between plants. Rocks, including flagstones and pebbles, can also add pretty variety to the garden.
    • Irrigate efficiently. Cluster plant species according to water needs, and consider a drip irrigation system that best reaches the roots without wasting water on the mulch or rocks. If watering with a hose, focus on long, deep watering instead of more regular and brief watering cycles.

    Learn some other ways to save water in your home and garden.