What is Xeriscape?


What is Xeriscape?
  • Posted April 9, 2015

Xeriscape may sound like the name of the latest video game but is in fact a term, originally coined out west, for planting for water conservation.

You don't need to be a Western gardener, however to utilize its principles. Xeriscaping largely involves choosing plants that can easily survive heat and drought without irrigation. Beyond installing non-irrigated plantings, desired plants that require irrigation are grouped together by water needs.

  • These are watered deeper, but less frequently than typical, using drip irrigation, low to the ground sprinkler heads, micro sprayers or bubble emitters.
  • Lawn areas if not eliminated, are reduced and also given deeper, less frequent irrigation than is traditional.
  • Lawns may also be planted with short, less thirsty varieties of native prairie grasses.
  • Mulches, from wood chips to stones, are used to dress planting beds, thus keeping the soil cooler, reducing evaporation and reducing the number of weeds consuming water and needing to be pulled.
  • While xeriscaping is obviously suited to those frequently brown or water demanding areas of your yard, it works just as well for any area, except those that hold water for extended periods.

Xeriscaping, which is often done with native plants, conserves water and reduces maintenance and expense, but also offers other important benefits.

Natives usually put down more extensive and deeper root systems, leading to the less frequent need for watering, but additionally they create increased soil percolation and reduced runoff with these root systems.

  • Increased percolation of water through the soil leads to better water quality as toxins are filtered out during percolation.
  • Bill VanLiere, horticulturist for the sculpture park at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, believes xeriscaping can also increase plant longevity; “Being that many plants suffer a slow decline - leading to a short life, in today's frequently automatically controlled, over-irrigated landscape; it is likely the long term survival rate will be greater in a non-irrigated area."

As with traditional landscapes, plants still need to be matched to soil type, but xeriscaping is suitable to all soil types, even sandy. Again, most of the time using native plants is best.

  • Hybrids of natives also work well.
  • Natives also offer the benefit of filling in quickly, especially the ones that spread by seeding themselves.
  • Just choosing drought tolerant plants could be a problem, if you have clay soil, when wet periods do occur.
  • Rain garden plants work well for clay soils as they are plants that can handle the extremes of going from being soaked to living in drought.

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Dawn Sherwood
About the Author

Dawn Ochsner is a landscape designer and garden writer.


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What is Xeriscape?