Xeriscaping is a landscaping method designed for water conservation in hot, sunny areas. “Xeros” is Greek for “dry”—xeriscape literally translates to “dry landscape”.
By decreasing the amount of lawn, using plants that require less water, installing an efficient irrigation system, and mulching beds, you can be an active participant in water-wise gardening. Save water, save money, and still have a beautiful yard!
Choosing the Right Plants
Gardening in arid conditions is most successful when compatible plant choices and cultural practices are engaged. Consider decreasing or even eliminating the lawn in your yard; think of all the water you won’t consume this summer! Lawns can easily be replaced by drought-tolerant plants, including those that are native to the Pacific Northwest. Plants that are indigenous to an area are already acclimated to local weather extremes, making native plants a smart gardening choice for xeriscaping.
Designing a layered garden with trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, and groundcovers provides the density of planting with a “living mulch” effect, reducing overall water evaporation as well as weed growth. Be sure to consider spacing when plants are mature and avoid crowding.
Amending Your Soil
Pacific Northwest gardeners are often faced with heavy clay soil that holds water, but does not drain well—the demise for many landscape plants. Amending your soil with homemade compost or G&B Soil Building Conditioner will greatly improve texture, aeration, and draining capacity. This can be done well before planting time or at the time of planting. Use about one third compost to two thirds native soil for best results (save some to use as mulch after planting).
Watering Your Xeriscape
Xeriscaping is not a water-free landscape; it’s a low-water landscape. Though they may be tough and tolerant of hot, dry, sunny environments, drought-tolerant plants still need water—they just use less water and are more efficient with it. Many drought-tolerant plants have adapted to dry conditions by growing extensive root systems that seek out water deep below the soil’s surface. Getting new plants off to a good start by providing deep watering until roots are established is critical to long-term success. Frequent, shallow watering may cause root rot if the soil does not dry between waterings; many drought-tolerant plants are sensitive to soggy or constantly wet soil conditions.
Be prepared to provide supplemental water to newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials for the first two seasons, particularly during the hottest part of summer. Watering slowly and deeply will ensure that precious water goes deep into the soil instead of running off. The third summer will require supplemental water every few weeks and a watchful eye during the hottest days. At any time, if your plants begin to wilt due to lack of water, give them a drink to avoid undue stress for you and the plants! By the third or fourth summer, plants should be established enough to fend for themselves, but even mature trees, shrubs, and perennial plantings benefit from a deep watering every 3–4 weeks during prolonged periods of heat and drought.
Once your beds are established, set in place an efficient irrigation system. Irrigation options range from simply laying down soaker hoses to having extensive drip systems professionally installed. The goal of an efficient system is to water less frequently, but deeply into the soil.
Mulching Your Beds
In addition to smart watering, it’s best to mulch your beds with several inches of bark chips, hazelnut shells, compost, or G&B Soil Building Conditioner to prevent the soil from drying out too quickly and to promote a healthy soil environment (with microbes, worms, etc.). Remember to keep mulch about 4 inches away from the trunk or base of plants for ideal plant health.