Xeriscaping (derived from the Greek word Xeros, meaning dry) is landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. Plants whose natural requirements are appropriate to the local climate are emphasized, and effort is taken to avoid losing water to evaporation and run-off. So why xeriscape if you’re not a desert dweller? In a world experiencing climate change, drought issues are becoming increasingly prevalent no matter where you live. And while the Puget Sound area may see rain for many months, from May to August we average about the same rainfall as many southwest desert areas. Rapid and continued population growth has placed increasing strains on regional water sources and, as you may have noticed, water has become an increasingly expensive natural resource.
To implement xeriscaping in your landscape/garden, take advantage of the following xeriscaping principles:
Start with proper plant placement and improve the soil: Adding organic matter to soil to boost its moisture-retention abilities.
Mulch the soil that surrounds plantings: 75% of rainfall on bare earth areas evaporates or runs off, whereas almost all rainfall on mulched earth areas is retained.
Choose low-water plants: Many xeriscapers recommend using primarily native plants, believing they are best suited to a region’s natural cycles. However, others encourage the use of generally drought-tolerant species such as herbs and small shrubs including rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender.
Irrigate efficiently: Whether you use hoses or automatic systems, the secret is to irrigate slowly, so that water penetrates the soil surface rather than running off of it. Choose infrequent, deep watering over frequent, shallow watering as this will encourage deeper root growth. And be sure to irrigate in the morning or evening to avoid evaporation from the afternoon sun.
A note about lawns: One of the biggest challenges to widespread acceptance of xeriscaping is the culture’s love affair with grass lawns. Originally implemented in England, lawns have become a universal symbol of order and community. Despite their high water, fertilizer and maintenance needs, and despite the fact that many wonderful groundcover alternatives exist, lawns have become the norm across the country. The philosophy behind xeriscaping doesn’t necessarily exclude all lawn areas, but rather it asks that we consider more thoughtfully whether a grass lawn is the best choice for any given area. It seeks to reduce lawns to areas that will actually be used, rather than automatically using them as a default landscaping plan.