Xeriscaping is a type of landscape design that uses low-water-use or drought-tolerant plants that require little to no supplemental irrigation. Coined in the ’80s, Xeriscaping helps you create a water-wise yard without skimping on enjoying having a landscape full of life!
Reduce the water bill, fill that hot full sun location, create an oasis in a sandy site, and beautify tricky hell-strips around the landscape. In many cases, planting a Xeric garden is a necessity for arid, high-elevation, and desert climates.
What is a Xeriscape Plant?
With natural water-storing capabilities, deep roots, and waxy leaves that reduce moisture evaporation, Xeric and drought-tolerant plants have adapted to a niche climate and can handle the sun and periods of no rain.
The process of designing landscapes with these plants, with the purpose to reduce or even fully eliminate the amount of water needed to support them is the hallmark of Xeriscaping. Beyond what the natural world supplies them, these landscapes need little to almost no water once established!
But Xeric and drought tolerance aren’t synonymous with not watering. In fact, plants who prefer dry climates actually need a year or two of regular moisture management to ensure their roots are well established in their new home. This will only set them up to be truly low watering tolerant for those future dry periods!
It also means that the root establishment should be pristine before weaning them off of regular irrigation. Dry plants love to sink their roots down low so that when the upper levels of soil go dry, they still have the water below.
Even if your plants are established, it is recommended that during extended heat, and prolonged dry periods, it is always a good idea to give water to your plants just in case. Being drought tolerant merely means that the plant has a special ability to conserve the water supplied to them or reach out to find its own water source.
Bright flowering plants with lush greenery, Perennials are already very easy to grow and require little maintenance to keep them looking spiffy. Usually small and space-saving, the added bonus of also being Xeric makes them especially alluring!
Basket of Gold
Delonsperma Fire Spinner
Hens n Chicks/Succulents
Kniphofia/Red Hot Poker
Sea Thrift Splendens
Many Mediterranean Herbs are also fantastic for creating a scented and tasty Xeric garden! Try Lavender, Rosemary, Santolina, Curry plant, and Thyme.
Small to mid to large flowering and foliage ornamentals, these bushes are stalwart specimens in harsh drought conditions. A few of these fantastic shrubs even produce fruit, but in drought conditions, you may see reduced flowering and fruiting so more energy goes to the plant's survival instead
Blue Mist Shrubs
California Wax Myrtle
Red Flowering Currant
Large trees that handle drought also provide cooling relief from the sun for anything planted beneath them! Including us! Shade helps beat the heat and trees help cool our environment! Many trees are drought-tolerant once established, but others can handle long-term arid conditions
Whipcord Western Red Cedar
Starting a Xeric garden or dealing with one you’ve been dealt with in the landscape shuffle, there are several things you can do before you put a single plant into the ground to give future installations the right start.
First, it’s important to learn your Hardiness Zone so you can choose plants rated for your climate, and choose plants that are low-water usage. Then track how much sun your location receives to know if you have full sun, partial sun/shade, or full shade.
If you are starting with bare virgin ground, it’s a good idea to improve your site. Often you are working with very sandy or fast-draining soil, maybe even hardpan compacted soil that’s been sunbaked and dried out to a crisp. It’s also a good idea to call your local Diggers Hotline to ensure you do not hit any underground obstacles.
Start improving the soil by tilling in compost, peat, organic matter, and aged manure, into the ground. This increases the soil’s water-holding capacity and promotes root growth. Fluffing the soil so that roots can easier penetrate and grow deep.
Map out your yard to scale, mark or create hardscapes like patios and walkways, and consider that each flower, shrub, and tree has slightly different needs. Then mark where your shade and sun locations are, where the dappled shade will be beneath trees at their mature width, and where other large structures will cast shade throughout the day.
Consider planting fewer Turfgrass areas, and when you do consider turf - consider using a buffalograss or something that is drought tolerant.
Consider strategically placing shade structures, awnings, canopies, and other objects that cast shade around to help plants cope with the full sun. Until trees mature and can cast their shade, plants around them will need shade cloth or temporary shade until the trees grow.
Nature Hills Root Booster is recommended to be added to the soil during planting, and a 3-4 inch thick layer of mulch of any kind helps to minimize moisture evaporation from the soil, keeps soil moisture more regulated, and insulates the roots from heat and chill.
You can even install underground irrigation to help soak the ground and take the edge off of an extended drought without worrying about the heat and the sun will simply evaporate the moisture before plants can use it.
Gravel Gardens are great ways to mix a Zeroscape with a Xeriscape. A Zeroscape is all rock, brick, pavers, stone mulch, and other hardscapes, including a type of Japanese Sand or Zen garden for meditation. Include a few carefully and strategically placed plants that act as features around the area in rows, groupings, and mindfully placed specimens.
A Dry River Bed garden can take a long, winding, and/or narrow stretch of the yard and turn it into a living river of stone and green. With or without larger stones and rocks on either side to create the look of a riverbank, include a 'river' of fine pebbles or pea gravel down the center, or a ‘stream’ of colored stones to simulate water. Flat and straight, or winding and rambling down a hard-to-mow slope or hillside, the choice is yours.
Include spiky/upright plants, creeping groundcover plants, and graceful cascading plants that 'spill and flow' into the center of the 'stream' you've created. If you are designing on a hill or slope, include flat stones that span the center of the river bed to look like perfect places for a waterfall.
Most hardy cacti and desert/xeric plants are all the rage in areas like Colorado! Not just because of the dry soils and arid climate, but in the drought-stricken western US, it's easier to replace the lawn with native, water-wise, drought-tolerant plants!
Terra cotta, stones, sand, broken brick, crushed gravel, and pea gravel look great when combined with some desert-style or metal sculptures and statues. Include a rough mixture of big and medium stones mixed with sunbleached logs! Jagged shapes and raw rock keep the mood going!
A Rock or Boulder Garden, or Crevice Garden combines a tough area full of stones and rocks into a garden by planting among the obstacles, turning it into a stony oasis! Tall rocks in the center, smaller and medium stones skirting the edge, and plants tucked in between.
Hot and dry, with rough conditions, salt spray in the winter, occasional foot traffic, and tricky compacted ground, the Hell Strip between the road and sidewalk can be a harsh environment for any plant. Improving the soil, adding lots of mulch, and choosing low-growing plants that won’t block the view from your driveway or the road will help improve literal curb appeal.
Each year, you’ll be surprised with the time and money saved stemming from the lesser amount of watering due to the new and improved style of gardening adopted.
But, the true beauty lies within a well-designed, beautiful drought-tolerant garden! Head over to Nature Hills to check out all our Drought Tolerant plants and Full Sun landscaping to turn any tricky location into your new favorite garden oasis!