Xeriscaping refers to water efficient landscaping, which utilizes water efficient plants, minimal fertilizer and chemical input and is low maintenance, all of which results in less weed growth and less water run off. In no way does this mean sacrificing color, texture and diversity in your landscape. Xeriscape plants include groundcovers, ornamental grasses, perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees. Xeriscaping is ideal for both commercial and home landscapes, parks and public areas.
Water Efficient Landscape
The basic steps to creating a water efficient landscape include proper planning and design, compost, putting the right plant in the right place, watering to meet, not exceed, plant needs, mulch and maintenance.
Proper planning takes into account microclimates in your landscape. Microclimates are defined as small areas with climatic differences from the surrounding areas. For example, a microclimate can exist beneath a large shade tree, on the east or south sides of your house, in an area shaded by a balcony or near a downspout. Note all the microclimates present in your landscape in order to put the right plant in the right place and take advantage of these small climate differences. In addition, placing plants with similar needs within these microclimates makes meeting their water needs much more efficient.
Compost is very important to successful xeriscaping. It improves soil composition, which increases water absorption, thereby reducing runoff. By reducing runoff, not only is water conserved, any fertilizers or pesticides used are retained on site, increasing their intended effectiveness and reducing pollution to waterways. Compost attracts beneficial soil organisms, which keep the soil porous and improve aeration, all of which greatly benefits plants. Composting also add nutrients to the soil, which reduces the need for chemical fertilizers by providing a slow release of nutrition to plants over long periods.
Putting the right plant in the right place is of the utmost importance when planning any successful landscape. Be aware of your Hardiness Zone. Group plants with like needs together. For example, keep thirsty plants, such as those typically planted around entryways, near a water source so their needs are easily met. Plants with low water needs are typically planted away from water sources and can fill in the least used, least maintained or least accessible areas of your yard. By grouping plants with like needs together, the amount of effort required to keep them happy is minimal while providing the maximum benefits to you. Plan for any turf areas in locations where they will be most useful. Do not plant turf on slopes or in high traffic areas. Groundcovers, mulches or permeable hardscapes can be an excellent alternative to turf and, when chosen properly, can provide the same benefits as turf without all the time and chemical inputs. If turf is a must for you, plan to place plants with high water needs near the lawn, so they can benefit from the frequent irrigation the lawn will require. Also, keep the lawn layout simple so it is easy to mow and edge.
A well-planned, well-designed irrigation system is a wise investment and will promote plant health while saving money and conserving water. In general, overhead irrigation is less efficient and allows for more water loss due to evaporation and run off than a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation applies water directly to the soil, making it readily available to plants. Also, since drip irrigation systems apply water at a slower rate than overhead systems, water has more time to be absorbed into the soil, which tends to reduce the amount of water used overall. The amount of water your landscape requires depends on your soil type and plant choices, as well as the weather. If you see puddles or signs of runoff, you are watering far too much.
Apply mulch on a regular basis to conserve water, protect plant roots from temperature extremes and promote good soil health. Organic mulch (bark, compost, well-rotted manure, shredded leaves, etc) breaks down over time, adding nutrients to the soil.
Regular maintenance will keep your landscape looking it’s best. A well maintained landscape is more resistant to disease and requires less input overall. Weed frequently to eliminate competition for water and nutrients. Aerate your lawn annually to maximize water absorption. Regularly inspect your irrigation system for leaks. Prune plants as needed to maintain plant health.
Follow these steps and your landscape can be a highly efficient, low water, beautiful landscape requiring minimal resources and input to look it’s best year round.
Mediterranean gardening: A waterwise approach. Heidi Gildemeister. University of California Press, 2002.
Water Wise Vegetables. Steve Solomon. Sasquatch Books, 1993.
USDA Hardiness Zone map http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html
The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon www.hardyplantsociety.org
Native Plant Society of Oregon www.npsoregon.org
Pacific Northwest Native Wildlife Gardening http://www.tardigrade.org/natives/
OSU Extension Service/Master gardeners http://extension.oregonstate.edu
Landscape Plant Identification http://oregonstate.edu/dept/Idplants/
Regional Water Providers Consortium www.conserveh2o.org