Low-Water Landscaping

1-2 hours

Xeriscape: Water Conservation for Your Lawn or Garden

If you have a love for greenery, but you’re looking to conserve water, consider xeriscaping your yard. Xeriscaping, or low-water landscaping, is an eco-friendly approach to gardening. It lessens the need for supplemental water due to irrigation, and reduces the amount of time and money it takes to maintain your yard.

Xeriscaping is most effective when you replace thirsty plants with more drought-tolerant plants. For areas in your yard with full sun, try planting creeping juniper, creeping phlox, lavender or thyme. Plants that will enjoy partial shade include periwinkle and winter creeper. If you’d prefer ornamental grasses, check out bamboo, buffalo grass or sea oats. For drought-tolerant trees and shrubs, try boxelder, juniper and sumac.
Fall is the best time to xeriscape. During this time, plants are dormant and can establish themselves before heat and drought sets in around spring and summer.
Some of the most popular drought-tolerant plants often used for xeriscaping are succulents, specifically sedum. Sedum is a hardy plant available in a range of colorful varieties to match your gardening needs.
Prepare your soil to support low-water plants by testing the pH. Ideally, you want a pH between 6-7, so consult the soil test packaging for tips on which amendments you should add to your soil to level the pH. Compost is an excellent additive when planning low-water landscaping, as it can provide nutrients for your plants and helps to stabilize the soil pH. To directly change the level of acidity in your soil, add sulfur to increase the acidity and lime to reduce it.
For an easy and quick solution to dry climates, consider incorporating landscape rocks as part of your xeriscaping plan. Requiring no care or maintenance, landscape rocks such as brick chips, cobblestone, lava rock and even landscape grass can transform your yard.

In this series, you’ll learn the key elements needed to maintain your xeriscaped yard. Be sure to follow the maintenance instructions on your plant tag. It may also be necessary to check your local ordinances for landscape regulations before starting this project. For more information on helping your landscape fight drought, visit the Garden Club.


Create your yard space

• You can make your xeriscape gardening efficient with careful planning.
• Group plants with similar watering needs together. Identify where the sun hits your garden, so that you can place your drought-tolerant or native plants appropriately. Record when, where, and how long the sun shines on different areas of your outdoor space.
• For hot, dry areas, also known as arid zones, use plants that require minimum water. Cacti, succulents and drought-resistant shrubs can be placed here. For plants requiring a lot of water, place them in areas that hold moisture and offer less direct sunlight. These areas are called oasis zones. Be sure to give your plants enough room to grow to size.

Water your plants

• When watering your xeriscaped plants, avoid doing it during the hottest part of the day. Early morning is usually the best time to water. This allows the water to soak into the soil gradually without quickly evaporating under the hot sun.
• Also, consider installing a drip irrigation system. This supplies water to the plant’s root zone directly, helping them to stay hydrated, healthy and alive.
• Most drought-tolerant plants require significant irrigation during the first couple seasons. This allows the roots to travel deep, so they can support the plant without irrigation. As the plant becomes more established, it will require less watering.

Apply nutrients to your plants

• Your xeriscaped plants will survive with proper care and the right nutrients. Soil and mulch can help make this happen.
• Soil fosters root growth, so you want to choose the most appropriate kind for your plant. If you’re unsure of your soil type, do a pH soil test, or get an analysis from your local state university or local extension service.
• Be sure to aerate the soil around the drip line of the plant. This allows air and water to soak into the ground.
• Mulch is a material that prevents moisture from evaporating from the surface of the soil, and it suppresses weeds that rob plants of water. However, too much mulch can block water from getting down to the plant’s roots. In many cases, mulch should only be applied at a thickness of 2 to 4 inches around shrubs, trees, and in flower beds.

Maintain your yard

• To best maintain your xeriscaped space, create an area that’s easy for you to manage. Also, check on your garden often to address problems before they get out of control. Here are some other ways that you can keep your garden healthy and maximize water use:
• Follow the maintenance instructions on your plant tag.
• Remove any weeds before they get established. Weeds will compete with your plants for the limited water it takes to preserve them.
• Water your plants often before they become established. Once they’re established, you may be able to water them less.
• If you have a lawn, mow no more than 1/3 of the grass height. If you don’t, you run the risk of ruining the grass roots if you trim too short. Weeds could also take hold in your lawn.
• Lastly, apply the appropriate amount of fertilizer if necessary. Too much fertilizer can burn your plants or cause them to grow tall and straggly. Slow-release fertilizers require less effort on your part and reduce the possibility of over-fertilizing.