What is xeriscaping

By Matt Williamson
Info Guru,

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green xeriscape garden
Give your clients a “greener” option with xeriscaping
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Xeriscape is a compound of the Greek word xeros, meaning dry, and "-scape," as in landscape; "xeriscape" landscaping essentially refers to a creating a landscape design that has been carefully tailored to withstand drought conditions.

Pronounced as if it began with the letter Z, the use of "xeriscaping" originated within the Denver Colorado Water Department in 1981. It means landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants, while conserving water and reducing yard trimmings.

To many people, the term xeriscaping conjures up images of ripping out lawns to replace them with sand and rocks, eliminating color in their garden. Not so!

Xeriscaping provides many attractive planting options, ranging from shrubs to grasses, trees, and even flowers. Rock gardens can be an attractive feature, and so can a spiny cactus (depending on your client's area), but they certainly aren't the only things available.

As more and more areas of our country face draught conditions and as populations continue to expand and place greater demand on our water supplies, clients are asking their builders and landscapers more about this landscaping method.

Benefits of xeriscaping

  • Reduced water usage Xeriscaping cuts down on water use, which saves resources and reduces your client's water bills. Properly maintained, a xeriscape can easily use less than one-half the water of traditional landscaping
  • Reduced maintenance Since xeriscape plants are typically slow-growing, they require less trimming, which means less maintenance and disposal requirements.
  • Reduced fertilizer use These plants are also environmentally safer because they require less fertilizer
Whether your client is requesting an environmentally friendly landscape design, or their other choices in housing and design lead you to believe that they would appreciate a greener approach to landscaping, xeriscaping is a good option to consider for any setting where water is in short supply, or the homeowners are making environmentally-aware decisions in other projects. Although xeriscaping is associated with drought-plagued areas, don't underestimate the benefits it can bring to yards far-removed from the desert-like climates.

Xeriscape landscaping can take many forms. For some landscapers, xeriscape landscaping simply means grouping plants with similar watering requirements together on the landscape. This makes for more efficient watering, which makes a lot of sense. But is this true xeriscape landscaping? The answer is no. True xeriscaping looks not only at placement, but also at each plant choice as the design in created.

The challenge to client acceptance of xeriscaping

The assumption that a landscape will have lots of grass and that it will stay green all growing season is rooted in the American psyche. A house must have windows and a yard must have grass. That's what we've all been led to believe; that's what we grew up with.

By contrast, a major premise of xeriscape landscaping is that turf grass is problematic, because it is a water-guzzler. Not all practitioners of xeriscape landscaping totally eliminate lawns; some simply switch to types of lawn grass that demand less water (possibly making aesthetic concessions in the switch). Others cut back on the expanse and expense of lawn, relegating the lawn area to an accent on the landscape rather than maintaining the lawn in its position as the dominant element.

What fills the void in xeriscape landscaping left by the receding lawn? The answer to that question will depend on your client's location.

In the southwestern U.S. cacti and extended patios may dominate, perhaps entirely eliminating grass if the lawn area is small. An extended patio is simply an enlarged patio that takes up space where lawn grass would otherwise be planted.

In regions not quite as desperate for water, the answer may lie in ground covers, shrubs, mulches and a reduced lawn area.

Rather than bemoaning the loss of lawn space, present your designs as an opportunity to experiment. In addition to extended patio areas, walkways, and other permanent elements, variety of interesting xeriscaping plants and themes can be incorporated into a xeriscape landscaping plan.

Consider adding succulents such as hens and chicks, aloe, or Autumn Joy sedum, or wildflowers native to the area. Ornamental grasses such as purple fountain grass, yellow pampas grass, Mexican feather grass, or blue oat grass can add color and texture to a xeriscape yard without increasing water needs.

As a landscaping professional, the very best way to change a current water guzzling landscape model into one that conserves water is to:

  • Consult with other professionals in your area who have worked locally with xeriscaping projects. See what has worked for them.
  • Talk to county extension agents to determine which native plants are best for your region. They can also steer you away from opportunistic plants which may be popular in the region, but not native and therefore less adapted to a xeriscape plan.
  • Do research online. Google has an excellent list of xeriscaping resources that cover most regions of the country. Call your state's agricultural college or university to see if they offer information, extension courses or workshops on xeriscape landscaping.
  • Prepare an information packet for prospective clients, outlining the goals and benefits of xeriscaping. Include pictures of xeriscaped properties in your region so they can see the final results.

As environmental awareness increases, more and more clients are going to be asking about water conserving options and landscapes that use native plants. Stay ahead of the curve and develop your own xeriscape plan now.

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