What Is Xeriscaping? Everything You Need to Know About the Sustainable Landscaping Trend
Xeriscaping, or drought-tolerant landscaping, saves water and promotes native ecosystems. Here's what you need to know about the sustainable option.
As the climate continues to shift, the power of the plant life around our homes is becoming ever more clear; gone (or, at least, going) are the days of emerald lawns and thoughtless gardens. Well-planned and tended landscapes can nourish threatened bees and butterflies, offer enriching beauty, and even withstand drought and dryness—particularly when xeriscaping is employed.
"Xeriscaping is a water-wise landscape design solution," says landscape architect and consultant Angelica Papio. Here's what you should know about the beneficial approach to caring for your small slice of the environment.
What Is Xeriscaping?
Mark Abramson of Urban EcoScapes in Los Angeles defines xeriscapes as landscapes designed to minimize or eliminate supplemental irrigation. "Typically this has been achieved by using a desert plant palette and the term has become synonymous with drought-tolerant landscaping," he says.
According to Papio, this is part of the movement toward a more mindful and responsible way of living. "Xeriscaping promotes the idea that you can reduce your garden's water consumption by implementing smart design principles, eventually eliminating the need for irrigation altogether."
What Are the Benefits of Xeriscaping?
Along with saving water, xeriscape promotes the use of native plants a choice that serves both your aesthetic and the surrounding ecosystem. Urban EcoScapes, for example, prioritizes California natives, which comes with myriad upsides.
"Using California native plants that are appropriate for the area provides badly needed habitat for insects, wildlife, and birds in urban areas," says Abramson. "Our customers reduce their water use on average by 70%—resulting in substantial monetary savings—and California native gardens require almost no maintenance (mowing, fertilizer, pesticides, or supplemental water)."
As noted, xeriscapes are common in California, Southwestern states, and regions with drier, more Mediterranean climates—a descriptor that's only becoming more common with climate change. But even in fairer weather, the practice makes a lot of practical sense.
"It’s a great way to approach any landscape design project," says Papio. "You should always rely on the natural ecosystem to provide the resources it takes to maintain a garden."
Read on for the seven principles of xeriscaping—aka the perfect place to start.
The 7 Principles of Xeriscaping
1. Focus on Design
"A well-designed space allows you to sketch your yard, including all structures, proposed pathways, alternative grass areas, and desired elements," says Papio. "You can consider your use and lifestyle and ensure a sustainable design strategy from the beginning."
2. Improve the Soil
"The top six inches of soil matter," says Papio. "Increasing organic matter in this vital top six inches by just 1% holds 20,000 gallons more water per acre."
Papio notes that you can improve soil quality by adding cover crops, introducing dynamic accumulators (plants that bring nutrients from down within the soil to the surface), planting trees, and incorporating compost as needed.
3. Choose Natives
"These plants have adapted over millennia to be suited to the particular climate and region. This not only promotes a beautiful, wild aesthetic but also provides beneficial habitat," says Papio. "You’ll be sure to get visits from butterflies and hummingbirds, and help to prevent the literal extinction of certain bees."
Papio adds that grouping your native plants with similar needs together by light, water, and environmental needs will ensure a thriving and robust ecosystem under natural conditions.
4. Find Lawn Alternatives
"The shift toward the 'perennial movement'—wild gardens and alternative grasses—has gained a lot of momentum," says Papio. "There are now many commercial lawn alternatives on the market, from wild-seeded meadow mixes to low-maintenance, drought-tolerant sod to cover crops and herbal ground covers."
"Mulch helps you improve the soil by retaining moisture and lowering the ground temperature; it helps block out weeds, adds organic material, and brings worms, mycelium, and microbes back to the soil," says Papio.
Even better? Mulch is so much more than wood chips. "When we say 'mulch,' people think about wood chips and compost," Papio adds, "but you can actually create your own mulch by laying plant clippings over your soil and arranging it around your plants."
6. Eco-Friendly Irrigation
"The goal is to conserve as much water as possible," says Papio, who suggests watering on a low evaporation schedule, or using low-water systems like soaker hoses and slow drips.
If no irrigation is your goal, Papio recommends slowly reducing the irrigation until you only use it during heat waves and at peak summer temperatures.
7. Make Sure to Maintain
Papio recommends maintaining a natural landscape by strategically grouping native plants and cutting them back in the fall. "Mulch, add organic fertilizer, and make sure to monitor the health of your ecosystem," she says.
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