Living in an arid environment doesn’t mean that you have to forego the joys of a beautiful outdoor space. Numerous plants can thrive in arid environments and there are many tricks that can minimize a garden’s water needs. This is mostly what Xeriscaping is all about. If you are vaguely familiar with this term, you might picture a very austere environment with a few cacti spread around. While cacti can be a big part of a xeric garden, this type of landscaping can be used to create a wide variety of gorgeous, sometimes even lush gardens.
Even though xeriscaping was originally designed for draught-afflicted areas, it can now be used in any part of the world. It is a great way to maximize the potential of your garden, without consuming a lot of water. This type of landscaping also allows you to play around with different garden elements, in a way that would otherwise be impossible in a traditional garden.
In the following guide, we will introduce you to the principles of xeriscaping and its advantages. We will also share with you which plants are more suitable for this type of landscaping. To make things easier, we will give you some tips that will help even a beginner gardener become a master xeriscaper.
What is Xeriscaping?
- 1 What is Xeriscaping?
- 2 Advantages of xeriscaping
- 3 What are the best plants for xeriscaping?
- 4 Basic steps for an ideal xeriscape
- 5 In Conclusion
As you might have guessed by now, xeriscaping is a landscaping strategy. Its main purpose is to reduce or completely eliminate the need for irrigation. The name of this landscaping style comes from the Greek word “xeros” which means dry.
However, don’t let the name mislead you into believing that xeriscaping is strictly meant for arid environments. Its basic principles can be applied in any environment even in rainy areas. A xeric garden can even have a lawn. When it is used properly, the basic lawn can be used to cool the soil and provide numerous other environmental properties. There are also drought-resistant grasses that can be used as lawn replacements.
Xeriscaping involves not only knowledge of draught-resistant plants, but also requires long-term strategies. For example, the way you plant the trees can impact how well your garden utilizes rainfalls. Mulching and treating the soil are also important parts of a xeriscaping strategy.
Xeriscaping is most popular in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. It also works well in North Dakota Southern California, South Dakota, Utah, and Nevada. Nonetheless, you can apply its principles in any part of the world.
Advantages of xeriscaping
Xeriscaping comes with many advantages such as:
It saves water
The main advantage of xeriscaping is that it can be a valuable tool that you can use to save water. Consequently, it also saves you money, since water is becoming a scarce and increasingly expensive resource. However, this type of landscaping can provide other advantages as well.
It is low maintenance
Since xeriscaping rarely involves lawns, you can forget all about the tedious part of pushing around the old lawnmower. Watering will also stop being a burden. You can water occasionally, but it won’t be troublesome. If you opt entirely for drought-tolerant plants, you can eliminate watering altogether. As far as weeding goes, most weeds only grow in spring, so they won’t be too much trouble.
It is aesthetically pleasing
As we already mentioned, xeriscaping allows you to play around with different elements. Succulent plants have unique foliage and the process of combining different succulents can be raised to the status of art. Xeriscaping also integrates rocks, gravel, trees, pots, and even colourful perennials. What increases the beauty of xeric gardens is that they celebrate the local climate. As beautiful as a lush garden can be, it will look out of place in the middle of the desert. On the other hand, a well constructed xeric garden can become a celebration of the local climate.
It is good for the environment
Since you will no longer be using a lawnmower, you will minimize your fossil fuel consumption. Our advice is to use only native plants. They will look better and they won’t require pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Moreover, native plants also offer suitable habitats for the local wildlife.
What are the best plants for xeriscaping?
Xeriscape elements can be integrated into any type of garden. However, for a true xeriscape garden created in a desert environment, you will need plants that are highly resistant to droughts. These are the main plants that you should start with:
This is a natural xeriscaping plant. It is an evergreen drought-tolerant plant with a stunningly structured aesthetic. It will adapt to any spot in your garden, and it can even be successfully grown in containers. It has very thick leaves and a spiky appearance that will steal the spotlight in any garden. This plant looks better as it ages because it grows in size and its leaves become thicker. This makes its spiky appearance even more spectacular. Yucca blooms in June when it produces dropping white bells that grow in rich clusters upon tall stems. The blooms have a sweet fragrance that intensifies at night.
This is a very durable plant that comes in a wide range of sizes and shapes. If you are looking for a bushy ground cover, you can’t go wrong with a low-growing Juniper variety. Creeping junipers such as Juniperus horizontalis thrive on hillsides and slopes and can be an effective way to prevent soil erosion. If you want an interesting upright alternative, consider the Juniper Californica variety.
Another drought-tolerant juniper is the Rocky Mountain variety, which is an evergreen tree that has an upright growing habit. Rocky Mountain Juniper is native to the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Springs area. With its bluish-green needles, this low-maintenance evergreen juniper tree is a great xeriscaping plant. Another juniper plant that is a great option for xeriscaping is Juniperus Squamata also known as Blue Star, flaky juniper, or Himalayan Juniper.
If you weren’t a big fan of xeriscaping because you thought this landscaping strategy was all about grey and earthy tones, it is time to meet Delosperma plants a.k.a. Ice Plants. Contrary to their name, these plants don’t grow in cold environments. They are incredibly resistant to draughts and the intense purple shade of their flowers will surely liven up any garden space. Ice plants also have unique succulent-like foliage.
The thick leaves shine in the sun, and they often look as if they are covered in ice. These attractive xeriscaping plants spread rapidly and don’t need much to grow healthy and happy. They can adapt to many different environments, provided they are not exposed to cold temperatures. The most popular member of the Ice Plant family is Delosperma Cooperi and you can learn more about it from our complete guide to Delosperma Cooperi.
Commonly referred to as Coneflowers, Echinacea is an excellent ornamental beloved by gardeners worldwide. As versatile as they come, Echinacea flowers have many uses and can easily be cultivated by novice gardeners. These plants are native to central and eastern North America where they thrive on prairies and in woodlands.
These hardy plants can grow in any type of environment as long as they have been established successfully. They have a few demands early on, but they become extremely resistant once they’ve settled into their new environment. As a general rule, coneflowers need plenty of bright, direct light and well-draining soils. They are not big fans of humidity, which is why they make perfect additions to xeriscape gardening. You can learn more about these plants by reading our complete Echinacea Guide.
Hyssopus officinalis, commonly known as Hyssop, is a semi-evergreen shrub that many gardeners love thanks to its delightful flavour. If you want to attract beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden, you should definitely plant some Hyssopus. For many years, Hyssop has been valued for its medicinal and aromatic purposes, and although it is not as popular at the moment, we believe that this plant is worthy of our attention. Resistant to cold temperatures and droughts, this shrub will most likely adapt to any environment. As long as it receives plenty of sunlight, your Hyssop will grow healthy and happy.
Native to the northern hemisphere, Potentilla, commonly known as Cinquefoils is a popular ornamental that can thrive in any type of landscape and any type of garden. A perfect choice if you’re opting for xeriscaping, Potentilla will surprise you with its delicate and attractive flowers and showy foliage.
This plant is non-toxic so you can grow it safely in your garden and you can even grow it indoors, in containers. Potentilla plants won’t need much attention to grow healthy and happy as long as they get at least six hours of bright, direct sunlight. You can learn more about these attractive flowers from our complete guide to Potentilla.
Beautifully coloured and low-maintenance, Penstemons, commonly referred to as Beardstongue, are very popular ornamental plants. Native to North America, these flowers are perfect for xeriscaping as they can thrive in well-draining soils that are nutrient-poor. Penstemons are hardy perennials that can grow in various environments thanks to their tolerance for a wide range of growing conditions.
Big lovers of direct light, Penstemons will reward you with their colourful blooms if you plant them in a sunny location. Curious to learn more about Penstemons? You can read our full Penstemons growing guide.
If there is one thing that xeriscapes never lack, that is texture. Most xeric plants have unique foliages which create different layers of texture. And if you enjoy textured plants, you will surely love Lamb’s Ear. This is a fast-growing, low-maintenance perennial that thrives in full sun. It looks great on borders and small walls. We advise you to plant it in an accessible area where you can easily touch it and enjoy its texture. For example, you can grow it in a raised bed near a sitting area.
Not a big fan of humid environments, Stachys Byzantina, a.k.a. Lamb’s Ear or Wooly Hedgenettle won’t mind droughts and will thrive in most temperate areas. A member of the mint family, Lamb’s Ear is an edible plant that can be added to salads, cooked, and used as a garnish. You can learn more about this attractive plant from our Lamb’s Ear plant guide.
Pinyon Pine Tree
Trees are an important part of xeriscapes and the Pinyion Pine tree is the best choice for a low-maintenance garden. This is a rather short pine tree. It rarely grows above 6 meters, and it is also a slow grower. As such, you will have to be patient with it until it reaches its full potential. It has a high drought tolerance, but it will grow better if you water it from time to time. It features yellow-green needles which perfectly complement arid landscapes.
Other trees and shrubs that are often grown in xeriscape gardens include hawthorn, cherry laurel, crape myrtle, Texas mountain laurel, catalpa, oleanders, desert olive, and curl leaf mountain mahogany.
If you enjoyed the purple Ice Flowers, we recommend that you contrast them with another brightly-coloured plant. Growing plants in complementing colours is always a good idea. There is no better option for this task than the bright yellow Chrysothamnus, commonly referred to as Rabbitbrush, Chamisa, or rabbitbush. This perennial shrub forms rounded clusters of yellow blooms at the branch tips. The flowers turn into light tan seeds which add a unique design touch to the garden. It has a very intense scent so it would be wise to plant it further away from windows or sitting areas.
Santolina chamaecyparissus goes by many common names including lavender cotton, holy herb, grey Santolina, petit cypress, or ground cypress. This plant thrives in poor soil and requires plenty of sunlight to maintain its compact shape. This plant doesn’t just enjoy the heat, but it actually doesn’t tolerate extra irrigation. It features grey leaves and yellow pompom-like flowers. The attractive and unique-looking leaves of lavender cotton can appear shiny silver on sunny days, a nice shade of blue at dusk, and light green on cloudy days. Occasional pruning is required to maintain a proper shape. While pruning, you will enjoy a rich musky scent.
Perovskia atriplicifolia, commonly referred to as Russian Sage is a perennial plant with purple flowers. It is well known due to its numerous medicinal properties. Russian sage is often confused with lavender, but you can easily tell these two plants apart by the fact that Russian sage has a larger inflorescence and the pink shade is lighter and features shades of blue.
Russian sage is popular among gardeners worldwide thanks to its beautiful lavender flowers that look stunning in any garden. This plant thrives when it is planted in well-draining soil and in places where it can receive plenty of direct sunlight. If you grow your Russian Sage in a dry and sunny environment, you will be rewarded with abundant clusters of flowers that you’ll be able to enjoy from early spring to late autumn.
Bouteloua dactyloides, also known as Buffalograss of Buffalo Grass is a type of prairie grass that grows natively in the United States, in Canada, and in Mexico. This shortgrass is perennial and thrives in warm environments. It is safe to say that Buffalo Grass is a hardy plant as it can withstand droughts, extreme heat, and even cold temperatures. If you are looking for a lawn replacement, Buffalo Grass is just what you need.
This turfgrass can resist a wide range of outdoor conditions. Unlike many heat-loving plants, it can also tolerate cold. It spreads very quickly, through stolons, it doesn’t need frequent mowing and it has low water requirements. The ideal time to plant Buffalo Grass is in April or May and you can start if from seed or sod. The active growth season of Buffalo Grass is from May to September and it is followed by a dormancy period during fall and winter.
No xeriscape would be complete without decorative grass. There are several types of ornamental grass suitable for xeriscaping gardens but the Festuca arundinacea a.k.a. Tall Fescue is a popular choice. It adapts well to a wide range of environments and it maintains its green colour all year round. It grows well in poor soil and its coarse and broad roots can actually stabilize the soil and minimize erosion. Tall fescue is a hardy grass that is often used by gardeners as a lawn.
Other decorative grasses that are perfect for xeriscaping include Arizona Fescue, Blue Grama, Blue Oat Grass, Feather Reed Grass, Chinese Silver Grass, Indiangrass, Little Bluestem, Green Fescue, Prairie Dropseed, Switchgrass, Blue Fescue, and Zebra Grass.
Basic steps for an ideal xeriscape
You don’t need to be an experienced gardener or a skilled landscaper to create a beautiful xeric garden. All you have to do is follow these basic steps.
Step 1 – Determine if your space is suitable for xeriscaping
Obviously enough, if you live in a desert area, your yard is the ideal environment for a xeric garden. However, if you live in an area with occasional drought periods things can get a tad complicated. Even a temperate area can have xeriscape elements, but you will need to observe your yard properly and designate the sun and water zones. You will have areas with high water use, areas with moderate water use, and areas with low or no water use. As far as humid environments go, you can only use xeric elements as focal points. An overly rocky and dry garden will look out of place in a humid environment.
Step 2 – Optimize the space for water conservation
Aside from marking the sun and the water zones, there are other tricks that you can use to conserve water. You can use the natural drainage patterns of the land to create terraces. You can also use trees to create shade and keep the soil cool. If irrigation is needed, opt for a smart system that doesn’t waste any water.
Step 3 – Choose your plants wisely
Using native plants is ideal in creating a garden. If you live in an arid environment, start with the plants that we listed above. For other environments, you will have to work with native plants. Only use the principles of xeriscaping to conserve water. Don’t try to create an environment that is atypical of the local climate.
Step 4 – Work on your soil
A xeric garden needs soil that can stay cool for as long as possible while still retaining excess moisture. The best choice is silt soil. A good amount of organic matter is recommended, but don’t overdo it. Keep in mind that many xeric plants thrive in poor soil.
Step 5 – Add Mulch
Mulching is essential to minimize evaporation and keep the roots cool. The best choice for a xeriscape is wood-based mulch. Cedar and pine peelings are ideal. Because it rots, wood-based mulch needs to be replaced regularly. However, it is the most effective for xeriscapes, and it also does a good job of complementing the environment. We know that xeric gardens are often associated with rocks and gravel, but this only works for certain environments. Stone-based mulch can work but only in the shade. In the sun, the stones get hot, heating the soil and evaporating excess water in the process.
As you can see, xeriscaping is full of advantages. It does need a little preparation and a good strategy, but it is nothing that you can’t easily learn on your own. And the best part about it is that once you are done with the planning and planting, you won’t have much to do other than to sit back and enjoy the environment.
Xeriscaping requires minimum maintenance, so you will save a lot of time and effort in the long run. Your water bills will also be less depressing and the environment will surely thank you for not wasting valuable resources. If you live in a less arid area, don’t forget to adapt the xeriscaping principles to the local climate.
Are you a fan of xeriscaping? Share your xeriscaping techniques in the comment section!