Planning a landscape is challenging; there is an incredible amount of ground cover, plants, and irrigation techniques to consider. It can become even more complicated if you live in an area that has a difficult climate.
Xeriscaping is a popular choice for areas that see very little natural rainfall, but it can be applied to any location. This minimalist approach results in an easy-to-care-for landscape that also helps reduce water usage. Read on to learn about xeriscaping and why it might be the perfect option for your property.
What is Xeriscape Landscaping?
Xeriscaping (pronounced like ‘Zeroscape’ or ‘zeeriscape’) came about as a solution to create budget-friendly landscaping solutions in areas that suffer periods of drought on a regular basis. It utilizes native plants and ground cover solutions that require a minimal amount of water to survive, which results in a low maintenance solution.
Many people mistakenly assume that this practice is only for desert climates, uses a multitude of rocks, and is full of cacti and other succulents and common desert plants. Even though xeriscaping is a popular option for desert areas, it’s a popular choice that can be used anywhere, and does, in fact, require some watering and moderate plant care.
Before getting started, it is important to consider the benefits it brings to your property. If the idea of a minimalist design that highlights a handful of plants, natural textures, and shapes is an idea you like, read on to see why you need to get planning.
Ease of Maintenance
One of the reasons people consider xeriscaping is the low maintenance the end result provides. The use of native plants means they thrive in their natural environment, requiring little to no fertilizer and less water overall. A lack of grass (or the use of very little grass) means you have little lawn to water and mow. All you need to keep on top of is weeding (which can be easily done with long term weed control applications), some minimal watering, and some pruning of the species of plants you choose to include.
One of the main reasons xeriscaping became a popular landscaping choice was due to water conservation in areas where natural rainfall is low. Rather than spending the money to constantly water-thirsty vegetation, choosing plants more suitable to the area without sacrificing beauty is an environmentally (and budget) friendly idea.
As mentioned, this is a budget-friendly option overall. Depending on your choices, the initial installation can be easier on your pocketbook versus a more traditionally planned lawn and garden bed combo. Even if you choose to take a more expensive route, most homeowners find they save up to 50% of their cost within the first 2 years. Less water and fuel for lawn care, less fertilizer, less pest control, and less time spent on maintenance result in savings that add up fast.
Xeriscaping Ground Cover Options
Before you get to planning, you want to consider what options you have for both ground cover and plants. Where you live and the natural amount of precipitation you receive may determine what you choose.
Weed blocking materials such as landscaping fabrics are a staple to this process. This material provides a thick barrier to help both hold in-ground moisture, and keep it from evaporating too quickly. It also blocks weeds from growing. Although you will have some weeds come up with time, landscape fabric allows you to have much more control over their growth and eradication.
Covering your fabric with rocks of varying colors, sizes, and textures offers you a ton of decorative license. You can create designs and patterns and incorporate depth to your space when you mix and match differing rock details. The use of large rocks also provides interesting effects and serves as an excellent garden focal point.
Mulch also comes in differing textures and colors and can serve as a great alternative to rocks. Rocks may reflect light more than you want and may not always be the best choice for certain plants. Mulch is a choice you can use to help absorb UV rays; it will begin to decompose over time, however, and will need to be refreshed every few years. It also may allow more weed growth than rocks as it breaks down.
You can also choose to use both rocks and mulch in your plans. Just be sure to choose them based on the types of plants you are considering. Plants that prefer full sun and dry conditions do best in rockscapes, while more leafy options may do better with mulch.
Plants for Xeriscaping
Xeriscaping is designed around the use of native plants. Many people are unaware of just how many plants are native to the area in which they live. Often you can find natives in a local garden center, but if you are unsure of what to look for, a local extension agency can provide excellent advice.
These plants are going to vary depending on where you live, but don’t feel like this is a restrictive idea. Not only will you be surprised by the availability of your choices, you will also most likely be able to take advantage of drought-resistant options from other zones.
If you have some favorite vegetative ideas you want to include, you can definitely mix and match ideas if you don’t mind providing a bit of extra care to those choices. Plus, you can take into consideration the “zones” specific to your property (more on that below) and choose some plants based on those areas.
Winter hardiness for your specific planting zone will be an important plant feature, and you’ll also have several other considerations:
Thick Stems and Leaves
Many drought-tolerant plants that are friendly in multiple zones include those that have thicker stems and leaves. This is because these features store water for plant utilization. Examples of these plants include sedums, hens-and-chicks, ice plants, moss roses, and other succulent options.
Small-leafed plants have less surface area through which they lose moisture. Ground covers, such as various evergreens, or certain herbs, such as thyme, and textured options like stonecrop, moss phlox, and candytuft are popular picks.
Silver and Gray-Green Leaves
Silver leaves reflect the sun and don’t wilt under heat. These types of plants often lend height to your landscape and include Russian sage, lavender, lyme grass, and wormwood. They also usually flower throughout the summer and fall to add color to your property
The hairs on the leaves of some plants are actually an adaption to help reduce moisture loss. Lamb’s ears and various yarrows are excellent choices. Not only do they have textured-looking leaves and flowers, but they are also colorful and draw in beneficial insects.
Native plants, as mentioned before, are obvious choices since they are already acclimated to the environment in which you live. They have deep roots to take advantage of rainfall when it does occur, and they often add height and movement to your garden. Prairie natives are even hardier as they hail from harsh climates like windswept plains.
Ornamental grasses are an obvious choice as they are hardy and deep-rooted and can add texture and variable heights to your landscape. They also provide movement but can reseed and take over an area over time. Be sure to pull up unwanted plants when you see them emerge.
Getting Started for Beginners
If you are seriously considering xeriscaping, then you definitely want to begin your planning by taking a closer look at your property. Knowing the movement of the sun, the possible microclimates created by areas protected by fences and building walls, and where your water sources are located in advance can aid in your plan creation.
Mark your Sunny and Shady Areas
Track the movement of the sun across your property during the day to get an idea of where you have full sun versus areas of shade. You can use this information to better determine which plants you can include in your garden as well as xeriscape zones that are generally decided upon based upon the amount of protection and/or accessibility they have to water.
In your plan, you want to decide on planting zones. These are determined based on the irrigation and protection your plants require. Even though xeriscape plants are hardy and tolerant, they still need the care to thrive. These are broken up into three zones:
The oasis zone is where you may have some shade during the day, generally located closer to the house and also within easy distance from a watering source. Plants that may require a bit more moisture and care belong in these zones. Hardy perennials, ornamental trees, non-xeric groundcovers, annual plantings, container gardens, and water features are often placed here.
A transitional zone is often located along walkways, driveways, and fences that may provide natural moisture runoff for deeper rooted plants. These are often located further from the house but are highly visible and offer great curbside appeal. Shade trees, xeric-tolerant perennials, shrubs, and even native turf grasses can be planted here.
These are your full sun, dry areas that are located further from water sources, and natural water runoff. Your most drought-tolerant plants belong in this zone. Some people prefer to designate their entire property as a xeric zone to avoid the care an oasis and transition zone may require.
Plan your Irrigation
Don’t worry, you don’t need an expensive irrigation system in place for getting water to your plants, but you do need a plan for watering when needed. Oasis and transition zones may be close enough to your house to use drip or soaker hoses that require very little effort on your part. Also, take advantage of areas that are lower-lying and will gather rain runoff when it occurs. Usually, xeric zones have plants that can fend for themselves once established, but you may need to water regularly for the first few weeks after planting.
Measure for Landscaping Fabric
Once you know where you want your garden located, you need to measure for landscaping fabric. This ground material is important to help keep moisture locked into the ground and help avoid weeds. Be sure to get enough square footage to cover your ground without gaping when it’s laid out. The fabric is easy to cut so you can trim and shape to your heart’s desire
Pick your Plants
Once you know your sunny areas from your shady and have a plan in place for watering when needed, you can begin to make a list of xeriscape plants you would like to showcase. Creating a list helps you determine where they might be best placed and allows you to consider their overall size, texture, and blooming season (if any) to add interest through your whole property.
Choose your Ground Cover
You may decide to choose your ground cover in advance of your plants, but just keep in mind that you may want to have rocks with certain plants and mulch with others. Rocks allow you to create borders, walkways, and stacked features, so be sure to play with your options.
If you have been making plans to landscape your property or have been stuck on what, exactly, to do, xeriscaping is an excellent option to consider no matter where you live. This technique was created to add beauty and greenery to drought-ridden areas and to help keep water use to a minimum. It has since been embraced by the gardening community to work in a wide variety of climates and can be applied to an entire property, or even in small, hard-to-water areas that need to be brought to life.
It utilizes native plants as well as other hardy vegetative options and is a low-maintenance choice once established. You may need to water, weed, and trim occasionally, but overall it is a great way to add a garden to an otherwise bare space.
We’d love to answer any questions you have or see what ideas you have brought to life in your own xeriscaping projects! And, as always, please share!
Products we recommend:
Get started with your very own xeriscape garden with these recommended products:
Teknor Apex 1030-100 Soil Soaker Hose
We recommend this soaker hose as it can save you up to 30% water, has weeding pores for even soaking directly to roots, can connect up to 400 feets and is made in the US with 7 years warranty.
Premium 5oz Pro Barrier Landscape Fabric
Forget the weeds with this durable high density woven fabric ground cover. It allows air and water to pass through, but stops grass weeds from growing so your plants can thrive. A recommended purchase for every garden zone. This cover comes in multiple sizes.