The bottom line is that water is Southern California’s most precious resource and in danger because of climate change and difficulties with our state meeting demand.
Plus, water seems to be getting more expensive by the day and, according to the EPA, the average American household uses 320 gallons of water per day—30 percent of which is devoted to outdoor uses.
Households can cut back on water by implementing xeriscaping, a landscape philosophy that uses water-wise plants arranged in a manner that minimizes water usage.
What is Xeriscape Landscaping?
Xeriscaping is not the same as zero-water landscaping and is a term that was coined by the Denver Water department who holds the trademark for Xeriscape and the xeriscape logo.
It’s about plant selection and placement in like zones, along with reducing irrigation needs to as low as possible.
You might find the terms drought-tolerant landscaping or smart-scaping used instead, but they all refer to a method of landscaping that reduces water use and run-off.
Homeowners make the mistake of thinking that a yard based on a xeriscaping philosophy is largely brown with boring plants when, in fact, this isn’t the case as plenty of color and flowering options liven up yards everywhere.
Xeriscaping isn’t specific to desert climates and can actually be practiced across the nation from California to Florida.
Layout Is Critical
Of course, you can implement a xeriscaping philosophy at any stage your yard is in, but it is important to map out zones and develop a strategy as plonking down a few water-wise plants here and there isn’t going to do the trick.
The best thing to do is find the microclimates and mini-ecosystems in your yard with a year-round observation of sun and shade patterns, rainfall and wind by season.
We’re going to guess that you don’t have time to do that so here’s an alternative:
1. Analyze your space by mapping out north, south, east and west because sunlight changes throughout the year. Don’t fret as shade can be added in with trees and taller plants where you need it.
2. Analyze the soil to find out if it’s clay, silt, loam, etc. as well as pH to decide whether or not amendments are necessary. Better soil facilitates drainage, oxygen and nutrients.
3. Observe drainage patterns as, again, plants with higher water needs can go in areas that puddle.
4. Note where there are trees and structures that can’t be moved and decide where your seating and other areas of use will be.
5. Map out zones based on the aspects mentioned above and find plants to fit each zone in your yard.
The Importance of Grouping Plants
It’s not necessary to use exclusively succulents or native plants in a xeriscaped yard, but rather if you see opportunities for plants that need more water (such as in areas that naturally puddle), then go ahead and plant them as it’s about using resources nature is providing you.
Make sure that plants near each other have the same water, sunlight and fertilization needs in order to avoid waste, which is often referred to as establishing plant zones.
For example, a plant that loves partial-sun and good drainage shouldn’t be in the same area as one that can handle full sun and standing water.
Think about planting in layers, where short plants that border walkways can probably take a bit more water since it may aggregate against the hardscape.
These short border plants could absorb shade from taller plants behind them and so on, in a symbiotic relationship.
Also, plants in containers play a role in xeriscaping as they can benefit from rain run-off from your house or serve as vessels for those water-loving plants you must have.
Use Native Plants
Let’s quickly recap the benefits of landscaping with native plants, because they are usually key players in xeriscaping.
They are already adapted to the environment you’re planting them in which means they are tolerant of the soil, more resistant to local pests, suited to the natural climate, and have low water needs after becoming established since they are used to living in the area.
Grab a list of native plants appropriate for your region from the Sunset Western Garden Book or ask for help at a local nursery. Don’t forget we have a guide for coastal sage scrub native plants that are suitable for San Diego.
Remember, though it may be tempting, it can be illegal to transplant native plants from their natural habitat plus their odds for survival in these circumstances are low.
It’s Not Xeriscaping Without Responsible Irrigation
After going to the trouble of re-landscaping the last thing you’ll want to do is kill it from lack of or over-watering.
This is where your handy diagram comes in as you’ll certainly have planting areas that require more water than others and will need to make sure that they are on different watering zones, which means you can adjust the time for each zone up or down on your irrigation box.
Think about irrigation logistics when developing your map and decide whether it’s practical to run separate lines or create separate valves for certain planting areas.
Timers and moisture sensors help prevent over-watering, but check them at the beginning of the rainy season as it’s common for rain sensors to fail.
If it’s not reasonable to install drip irrigation, use a hose responsibly by controlling the water flow and making sure the water only hits the base of the plant to reduce overflow and moisture loss due to evaporation.
Set out buckets or use a gutter collection system to collect rain as re-purposing water also fits into the xeriscaping philosophy.
Should you really want to keep a low-water lawn, make sure that the sprinkler system sprays low and without overflow.
In any case, water in the early morning to reduce risk of evaporation.
They say that 60% of outdoor water use is dedicated to lawn maintenance and that usually half of that water runs off as waste.
And, do we have the ultimate guide for lawn replacement with an emphasis on synthetic turf that our clients rave about!
Artificial Grass requires very little maintenance, is pet-friendly and your lawn will always stay green making it the perfect solution for those who are serious about reducing water use.
But, actually (gasp!), a real lawn can fit into xeriscaping if you use native grasses that have been cultivated for turf lawns though keep in mind that your lawn will never look like a golf course and probably go dormant for part of the year.
Mulch and Maintenance
Native plants require some pruning while succulents need dead leaves and such removed to keep looking their best.
If done properly, the only thing you sacrifice by xeriscaping is water—and that’s good for both the environment and your wallet!
Do you have any xeriscaping tips you would like to add?
*Xeriscape is a registered trademark of Denver Water
**Photo by: xeriscape, Flickr/dpatricklewis; buckwheat, Flickr/one2c900d; drip irrigation, Flickr/plong; aster, Flickr/jkirkhart35