In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2013
Regional Report

Share |

Lavender is a classic xeriscape plant with small fuzzy leaves and a low water requirement.


In these days of fairly widespread drought, we're all fairly cognizant of the need to conserve water. But we also want our plants and landscapes that make us feel so good. There is a way to conserve water but still be able to have a beautiful landscape.

The word "Xeriscape" was coined by the Denver Water Department in 1981 to help make water conserving landscaping an easily recognized concept. The word is combination of "landscape" and the Greek word "xeros," which means "dry."

So, exactly what does this mean for our yards? It is a holistic approach to wise water management that integrates all facets of landscape design. It is not a desert landscape, but rather a way to landscape in tune with the natural environment that does not have a specific "look" or use a limited group of plants.

In most homes, 40 50 percent of residential water costs go to maintaining the landscape. A xeriscape-style landscape can mean 30 to 80 percent savings on water costs. Xeriscaping comprises a combination of seven basic landscaping principles

Planning and Design
Start with a plan that provides direction and guidance to ensure that water-conserving techniques are coordinated and implemented in the landscape.

Soil Improvements
We want to enable the soil to better absorb water and allow for deeper roots. For most soils, this means adding 1 to 2 inches of organic matter. Native plants prefer soil that is not too rich, so for these plants it's only necessary to only loosen the existing soil. Soil is also graded away from buildings and often contoured to direct water flow.

Areas of the landscape are zoned by water needs and irrigation methods are used that water plants in each zone most efficiently. It's important to water deeply and infrequently and employ methods like drip systems and low mini-sprinklers that do not waste water.

The most important principle of xeriscaping is to group plants with similar light and water requirements. High water-use plantings can be put in low lying drainage areas, near downspouts, or in the shade of other plants. Native plants that are adapted to the native soils can save more than half the water normally used to care for many outdoor plants. Plants with small, waxy or fuzzy leaves are naturally adapted to low water loss by evapotranspiration.

Using mulch keeps plant roots cool, prevents soil from crusting, minimizes evaporation, and reduces weed growth.

It's important to reduce the amount of water-hungry turf and choose grass species that need less water, such as tall and fine fescues. You can also replace sod with groundcovers, perennials and dryland grasses. Set the mower blade high to allow turf to grow longer to reduce water loss, which will also provide more shade for the roots, better water penetration, and better soil moisture retention.

The first year or two of a xeriscaping regimen will require a fair amount of weeding, irrigation adjustments, pruning, and pest control. Happily, the amount of maintenance decreases over time.

Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!

Our Mission in Action

Shop Our Holiday Catalog