Xeriscaping 101

xeriscaping gardening

Saving water doesn’t mean you have to give up the garden of your dreams.

Want a beautiful garden that doesn’t require gallons of water daily to maintain? The answer is xeriscaping, a term that refers to landscaping and gardening where water conservation is a major goal. (The term comes from the Greek “xeros,” meaning dry.) Here’s how to get started:

Plan ahead. When planning your landscaping, think about areas of possible erosion and water run-off, in addition to anticipated water usage, suggests Cathy D. Hough, general manager, Marina del Rey Garden Center in Marina del Ray, California. Knowledge of soil types, slopes, plants and climate are essential to producing a successful xeriscape garden. Consulting with a local expert may be your best bet when considering all the variables.

Go native. “Wherever you live, planting native vegetation has obvious advantages,” says Hough, who helps Los Angeles-area homeowners make the best use of water-saving techniques and native plants in an area that frequently experiences drought conditions. “Most native plants not only prefer minimal summer irrigation, they simply won’t tolerate wet summer soil,” she adds. “It’s easy to understand native plants’ needs when you consider what they receive in their native habitat: basically whatever winter and spring rains your area receives. Occasional supplemental water is all that’s necessary in summer and fall.”

Think mulch. “Mulching helps conserve moisture in the soil, lower the soil temperature around plant roots and reduce weed growth without using herbicides,” Hough says. Inorganic mulches are made from materials that were never alive. These won’t break down. They include gravel and landscape/weed fabric. Organic mulches are derived from something once living, such as pine needles, bark and grass clippings. “They will decompose into the soil and some will actually supply nutrients to the soil. Since they do decompose, organic mulches have to be re-applied as needed,” Hough explains. “One of my favorite organic mulches is Cocoa Mulch,” she says. “It’s the shell of the cocoa bean. It insulates roots, improves soil and holds moisture. But the best part is that it smells like chocolate.” (Use with caution if you have dogs.) Another of Hough’s favorites is Black Forest mulch. “It’s a forest humus compost that contains worm castings, chicken manure, bat guano and kelp meal. A wonderful recipe of organics that really feeds and improves the soil and plants.” (Note: It’s deodorized and has no smell.)

Irrigate wisely. “The most effective irrigation method largely depends on what is being watered,” says Hough. “Lawns respond best to overhead sprinklers but must be monitored for wasteful runoff. Drip systems lend themselves to individual plants and flower beds, but different plants will require varying amounts of water and frequency so multiple timers and valves may be necessary.” And hand watering? True, it can add one more thing to your to-do list. But is there anything more relaxing than hand watering your garden, enjoying the birds, butterflies and the fruits of your gardening labor — and taking time to smell the Cocoa Mulch?