Xeriscape (pronounced "zera-scape"), a term coined in Colorado in 1981, is loosely defined as a water-conserving method of landscaping in dry climates.
During the summer months, when citizens irrigate their yards and gardens,
The seven steps to Xeriscape gardening include proper planning and design, soil analysis, appropriate plant selection, practical turf areas, efficient irrigation, the use of mulches, and appropriate maintenance. The more thoroughly these steps are implemented, the more water-efficient a landscape will become. The Xeriscape concept has been adopted by states throughout the nation, including Georgia, and has been modified to fit local climate and soil conditions.
Proper planning and design are important, both for designing a new landscape and for adding to an existing landscape.
Soil analysis is critical to optimize the soil's water-holding capacity, yet provide good drainage. Organic amendments, for example compost, benefit most soils. It is recommended that four inches of an organic material be applied to the soil surface and incorporated into the top twelve inches.
Appropriate plant selection is important to any landscape, but it has particular importance in a Xeriscape. Select plants that are adapted to the site conditions and plant them in the appropriate water-use zones. Any plant in the nursery trade can be used in a Xeriscape, provided it is zoned according to the amount of water the established plant will require.
Practical turf areas emphasize the use of turfgrass for its function in the landscape, such as for erosion control or as a recreational surface. Avoid using large expanses of irrigated turfgrass just to fill space in the landscape. When selecting turfgrasses, consider their ability to withstand hot, dry periods in summer.
Efficient irrigation makes every drop count. By irrigating between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., less evaporative water loss occurs than in the hot mid-day sun. Water also can be saved by resetting the irrigation time clock regularly according to changes in rainfall patterns and by installing a rainfall sensor to prevent the irrigation system from operating during rain. Drip irrigation and hand watering help target irrigation to plants that need it.
The use of mulches helps conserve water in the soil and insulates the roots of plants from extreme heat in summer and cold in winter. Mulches also reduce soil-borne foliar diseases by acting as a barrier between the soil and the foliage. Such organic mulches as pine straw, pine bark, and shredded hardwood bark are excellent mulch choices.
Appropriate maintenance is critical once the other water-saving steps are in place. Reduce the amount of fertilizer applied, particularly during dry periods, and minimize summer pruning that encourages new, succulent growth, which has a high demand for water.
Xeriscape gardening is a practical, common-sense approach to quality landscapes that conserves water and protects the environment. It is a beautiful way to have twice the landscape for half the water.
Connie Lockhart Ellefson, Thomas L. Stephens, and Doug Welsh, Xeriscape Gardening: Water Conservation for the American Landscape (New York: Macmillan, 1992).
Norman Taylor, Taylor's Guide to Water-Saving Gardening (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990).
G. L. Wade et. al., Xeriscape: A Guide to Developing a Water-wise Landscape, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin, no. 1073 (Athens: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, 1992).
Gary L. Wade, University of Georgia
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