There exist a number of different types of drought tolerant landscaping strategies in use across the United States and around the world in this day and age. One of these tactics is known as xeriscaping. In a nutshell, xeriscaping is landscaping in a manner that reduces the need for the use of supplemental water. There exist an array of misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge as to what is involved in xeriscaping. The purpose of this article is to provide a concise, meaningful overview of xeriscaping.
Confusion of the Correct Term of Art
Before ploughing more deeply into a discussion of xeriscaping, a preliminary matter is addressing confusion that persist over what this strategy of drought tolerant landscaping is all about. “Xeriscaping” is the correct term of art for this particular landscaping process. It is derived from combining the English word for landscaping with the Greek word “xeros,” which means “zero.” This results in a common misspelling of the term as “xeroscaping.”
Some people use the term “zeroscaping” or “zero-scaping” to identify this process. This typically is a result of the phonetic similarity of the two words. With that said, technically zeroscaping is a completely different low-water, drought resistant strategy that usually is devoid of all plant life. Xeriscaping is never devoid of plants.
Origins of Xeriscaping
Xeriscaping traces its roots (no pun intended) to Denver, Colorado over 30 years ago. Xeriscaping originally was the creation of the Denver Water Department in 1981. As happens with some regularity in the Mile High City, Denver was experience regular periods of summertime drought. This reality resulted in significant water use restrictions in the city and county of Denver as well as in some other communities in the state.
The Essential Elements of Xeriscaping
The first element of xeriscaping is creating a diagram to scale that illustrates what will be the major elements of a landscape design. The diagram begins with what already is in existence, including existing landscaping, the residence itself, sidewalks, the driveway, and so forth. An overlay of what will be placed in the way of climate-appropriate vegetation and other items is placed onto the diagram. This includes:
- perennial beds
- other climate-friendly vegetation
The idea with this planning process is to be thoughtful in selecting what will and will not go into a landscape, with an eye on climate considerations and avoiding the need for supplemental water beyond rainfall to sustain the vegetation.
The next phase of creating a xeriscaped property is to consider the state of the soil and amend it accordingly. For example, most plant life benefits from the use of compost. Not only does compost provide nutrients to plants but it aids in retaining moisture in the soil. On the other hand, dessert plants have a preference for gravely soil.
Close attention is then paid to making certain that appropriate plant and zone harmonization occurs. In other words, a key element of xeriscaping is making certain that proper vegetation is selected not only in harmony with the overall climate of a particular region but is selected to pair appropriately with unique zones within an individual landscape. The bottom line is that different areas of a property receive varying amounts of sunlight, wind, and moisture. Plants selected for different property zones need to recognize this reality.
The next phase of creating a xeriscaped landscape is to consider irrigation. As noted at the outset, xeriscaping is not intended to completely eliminate the use for supplemental water beyond what is available through rainfall. Rather, the objective behind this type of drought tolerant landscaping is to markedly reduce the need for supplemental irrigation. The focus here is on utilizing different irrigation practices and technologies that minimize water use and sharply limit waste. Examples of irrigation devices or systems incorporated into xeriscapes include:
- bubbler emitters
- drip lines
- sprinklers that release large water droplets close to the ground
The crowning of a xeriscaping effort is the proper application of mulch. Mulch should be applied on all “exposed” areas to a depth of between 2″ to 4″. Exposed areas are those not covered by turf. Organic mulch is recommended, with options that include:
- bark chips
- pole peelings
- wood grindings
One of the objectives of xeriscaping is to eliminate the reliance on lawn as the default landscaping modality, which has been the case in countries like the United States and United Kingdom for generations. The reality is that a standard lawn makes very inefficient use of water and makes a high demand on this natural resource in many geographic locations. Even types of grasses marketing as being “drought-resistant” really are not.
Misconceptions About Xeriscaping
In many parts of the country if not the world there has been resistance to xeriscaping because of persistent misconceptions about it. The most prevalent misconception about xeriscaping is that it demands no living vegetation in a landscape. The second persistent misconception is that all landscapes must be converted to dessert scenes which feature only cacti.
In fact, and as has been noted previously, xeriscaping is a landscaping modality that focuses on plant life and cultivation techniques and practices that compliment a particular climate. In the final analysis, it is a natural way of developing a truly drought tolerant landscape.