What is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping is a water conservation concept that originated in Colorado. Eventually the idea spread throughout the west to utilize water efficient landscape designs to save water, but were also attractive.

The term xeriscape comes from xeros, the Greek word for dry. Combined with scape which literally means a picture or a view of a type of scene, we have the term for a dry landscape. Many people have a negative association with this word, thinking that all xeriscapes are hot, hostile and very thorny. Some associate the term with minimal plant material and lots of rock. To some, the incorrect use of the word is xero-scape, which equates to nothing! Actually, xeriscaping can and often is very attractive, quite lush and extremely colorful.

Xeriscaping utilizes several principles that make the design unique and water-wise. First and foremost, the design should embrace the concept of an oasis. The cool, lush areas that require the highest use of water should be placed near the area where one lives. The further away from the oasis, the less water consumptive the landscape.

Next is the limitation of turf areas. Place modest quantities of turf in areas where it will be used for cooling the environment, for play and recreation. Don't forget the utilitarian need for animals. There is no sense in placing thousands of square feet of turf grass out where no one will use it. Often, less water consumptive landscape materials such as groundcovers or mulches may be utilized in place of thirsty grasses.

Of equal importance is the irrigation system design. Most modern systems are very efficient, utilizing the latest in technology. Bubblers or drip emitters are placed accordingly for trees and shrubs, allowing for low volume, deep soakings. The design for turf areas should allow for completely separate valves. The irrigation controllers should have independent scheduling for turf areas and those which contain trees and shrubs.

In addition to efficient irrigation design, the landscape should make use of some amendments to improve the capacity of the soil to hold water and nutrients. Mulch covers on the soil surface help to reduce erosion, retain moisture and minimize the fluctuation in soil temperature.

The use of water efficient plants does not necessarily mean drab gray plants with lots of thorns or just cactus. The "green industry" has spent a considerable amount of time and money to introduce lush, colorful plants from all over the world. Many are well adapted to our desert conditions. Many are located on the UNLV campus, not only the Xeric Garden, but throughout the various building landscapes.

Obviously creating a water efficient design is easier for new landscapes where the soil can be amended and plants may be placed properly. Existing landscapes can be altered to become more efficient, but it may take time and persistence to complete the task.

Consult a professional to prepare a landscape plan and to coordinate the construction. Prepare the design to accommodate the needs of your family and how you will use the area surrounding your home. Place the lushest flowers and shrubs of the greatest density near the play area. Turf areas should be easily accessible for entry and maintenance.

One important principle is to avoid over planting. Too many landscapes are planted densely in a belief that "more is better" and a desire to have a mature look at the time of planting. Too often, as the plants mature, the landscape takes on a cluttered appearance, with everything jammed into one another. Even the most experienced designer needs to remember that some open space will allow for better appreciation of the plants.

Choose the right plant for the location. Trees and shrubs that are placed too near to structures or power lines can spell disaster or an untimely removal of the plant. Plants that require pruning every 5 to 7 years to control growth are in the wrong location. Have your designer draw everything to the mature size on the scale drawing to ensure proper placement.

Designs should provide for ample shade near the residence to take advantage of the cooling effect that trees provide. If winter warmth is desired, the trees should be deciduous. Trees that block exposure to winds may be evergreen.

If possible, contour the landscape to provide for the capture of natural rainfall if possible. Most urban conditions require homebuilders to work on the opposite principle, ensuring quick drainage away from the structure. If your landscaped area allows for retention, the deep soakings provided to your plants will be an extraordinary benefit.

Water conservatively once the landscape becomes established. Obviously new plantings require considerable amounts of water to survive the first or second year. Few if any plants can survive simply on the water provided by a drip emitter while in the establishment period. But once they become rooted in, start weening your plants and attempt to provide deep, infrequent soakings that encourage deep rooting. Remember that more plants are lost from being over-watered as compared to being overly dry.

Be sure to check and adjust your irrigation system frequently. Turn the water off on rainy or cloudy days for even more savings. As temperatures change so should your irrigation frequencies and duration. It is amazing how many people utilize a "set and forget" concept with their controllers.

No matter what you call it: desert landscaping, water efficient landscaping or xeriscaping, just remember, if you live in the desert, it is the right thing to do! Make the most of your landscape and you will enjoy it for many years to come!