In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2012
Regional Report

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This xeriscape design showcases exuberant color and lush vegetation.

Xeriscape...By Any Other Name

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
--Romeo and Juliet

And so Juliet contemplated the power of nomenclature from her balcony, while Romeo eavesdropped from below. I wonder if Shakespeare would have had something poetic to say about the name "xeriscape". Would it be less maligned if this form of landscape design were to go "by any other name"? Mention xeriscape to most people outside the gardening world and visions of gravel yards dance in their heads. Add a few prickly pear and a wagon wheel for Southwestern authenticity, and they are certain that's the best "zeroscape" has to offer.

In reality, xeriscape refers to the implementation of seven smart design and maintenance principles to create attractive, water-thrifty, and low-maintenance landscapes. Xeriscapes are colorful year around, beneficial to wildlife, and give a sense of their natural surroundings and regional identity.

Xeriscape has such a negative connotation for some people that other user-friendly landscaping terms are popping up to replace it, such as sustainable, water-wise, natural landscaping, earth-friendly, or smartscaping. Regardless of label, the seven principles are worth understanding and implementing. In the arid Southwest, the water conservation aspects are particularly important, although there are other advantages as well. Mulching reduces soil erosion, maintains soil moisture, thus conserving water, and inhibits weed germination, which in turn reduces herbicide use. Reduced chemical use reduces groundwater pollution. That's a lot of bang for your mulching buck.

If starting from scratch, the seven principles listed below provide an excellent framework to guide you during initial design and plant selection through to long-term maintenance. However, converting to a xeriscape mindset doesn't mean you have to rip up an existing landscape and begin anew. Rather, consider how to make small changes gradually that will add up to a larger impact over time. Typically, that impact will put more dollars in your pocket (less money spent on utility bills or replacing inappropriate plants that died) and reduce your time spent on maintenance chores.

Xeriscaping's 7 Principles
1. Start with planning and design.
2. Decide on appropriate use for and size of turf area, if any.
3. Choose well-adapted, water-thrifty plants for appropriate sites.
4. Understand how to irrigate efficiently and design the irrigation
5. Determine which, if any, soil amendments are needed.
6. Use mulch.
7. Prune, fertilize, water, and maintain as needed.

In upcoming reports, I'll cover each of the seven principles in detail. And I'd love to hear how xeriscape (sustainable, water-wise, earth-friendly, or whatever you name it) principles work in your yard!

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