Seven Principles of Xeriscaping
1 Planning and Design – Retain a qualified landscape designer or landscape architect to create a professional plan, basic or comprehensive. A good landscape designer will take a look at your garden’s topography, various exposures and soil conditions. Don’t try to fight your site as this is an issue many people neglect to consider and end up losing in a battle against mother nature. Create planting zones and group your plants by their needs. For example, group tough, drought tolerant plants in areas exposed to full day sun, give less tolerant plants some partial shade and keep the more delicate or demanding plants for a spot near your water source. Design the irrigation system to water ‘like water need plants’ so they can be separated at the irrigation controller for efficient watering.
2 Choose Appropriate Plant Material – You may choose to incorporate a few plants that will need to be coddled, but for the most part, selecting plants that thrive in your area during low water conditions will give you the best results. This often includes native plants that we so often take for granted. The choice of plants will vary by region, even within a single yard. You may also be surprised to see how many plants are considered xeric, once they have established themselves and when properly cared for.
3 Soil Improvement – The old adage that if you take care of the soil, the soil will take care of the plants, is typically true, however, in some soil types it is best to lightly modify the native soil and reuse it rather than completely changing out the native soils. The key, as always, is incorporating generous amounts of necessary organic matter. Organic amendments help to improve water penetration and retention in most types of soil. Proper fertilization, preferably organic products, will assist in breaking down what already exists in the native soil and organic amendments, converting it to usable food for the plants.
4 Mulch – Mulching is a naturally occurring process, but as gardeners we tend to want things tidy and we rake away all the leaves and debris that coat and decay into the soil. So we have to bring in more aesthetically pleasing mulch, such as shredded bark, compost or rock. Rock top dressing is an effective mulch and typically is easier to keep clean and it will not need replenishment as frequently as wood mulches. However it gets there, wood and rock mulch adds a great deal to your garden. It moderates soil temperature, holds moisture, slows erosion and suppresses weeds that would compete with your plants for food and water. It also gradually decomposes and feeds the soil. Typical application rates are 2” for rock mulch and 3”-4’ for wood mulch are recommended.
5 Practical and Appropriate Turf Areas – Most of us still want some areas of lawn in our landscape and many of us want way too much lawn. Think about how much water, fertilizer and gasoline it takes to keep your lawn green throughout the summer and winter (in certain locales). Where to place the lawn should be part of your initial design plan, taking into consideration what you plan to use your lawn for. If you are using grass as a ground cover, there are other options that would be less labor and water intensive. Choose an appropriate grass seed for the lawn’s exposure. Different seeds do well in different regions. Kentucky Blue grass is beautiful, but it can also be a water hog where it’s not happy. As where the use of a Dwf Tall Fescue varieties can provide a very nice looking lawn that requires up to 40% less water than other turf types. Where you live will determine what types of grasses are available for your lawn.
6 Efficient Watering – Not all plants need the same amount of water and those needs may change with the seasons. If you’ve followed the steps above, you have your plants grouped by their water needs, including your lawn, and can water only where it’s needed. Drip irrigation systems are often recommended for efficient watering. These systems allow you to control when and how much water a plant gets and to direct the water only to the plants that need it, where they need it.
7 Appropriate Maintenance – Yes, even a xeriscape garden will require some maintenance. Watering, fertilization, weeding, pruning, deadheading and sensible pest management will all factor into the quality of your garden. With most lawns mowing will be necessary on a weekly basis while shrub pruning and shaping can be done on an as needed basis. Seasonal maintenance tasks when performed correctly will enhance the overall beauty of your landscape.
Maintaining your landscape may be a bigger job than you expect. When this becomes apparent it is best to meet with 3-5 landscape maintenance providers to determine which company will be the best fit for your needs. Your best bet is to go with a firm that offers a comprehensive maintenance plan that includes taking care of all elements of your landscape investment.