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Xeriscaping Principles: Gardening for Water Conservation

With extreme drought gripping most of western North America, it’s a good time to look at ways to conserve water in your garden. Even if your area is not currently experiencing drought, employing the principles of xeriscaping will benefit your garden and save you time and money.Learn the principles of building a drought-tolerant and sustainable landscape design

Xeriscaping means conserving water through creative landscaping. There are a few basic principles in xeriscape: water conservation, drought-resistant plants, little or no lawn, improving soil, mulching, and watering wisely. Using these methods will not just save water, your landscape and garden will require less maintenance, thus freeing up a lot of time.

Related: How to Protect Your Garden From Heat Stress

Xeriscaping: conserving water in the garden

Water Conservation

Since the main goal is to reduce the amount of water needed for your garden or landscape, the first thing to look at is your garden conditions. Taking note of how much sun the area gets, the natural drainage pattern of the land, and other large plants already in the area will help you determine plant choices. With this information, you can use it to plan a garden that is sustainable with limited water needs and one that can rely on natural precipitation. Grouping plants together based on similar watering needs can also establish watering zones. Watering zones maximize efficient watering by ensuring that only those plants that need a bit of supplementary water are contained in zones.

Related: Garden Design Makeover in a Weekend

Black Eyed Susans and Ferns

Drought-Tolerant Plants

The best plants for a xeriscape garden are the ones native to your area. Native plants know how to survive in the region where they originated. When you take a plant out of its natural habitat, you have to mimic its native surroundings in order for it to thrive. That doesn’t mean you cannot have exotic plants. Save those types for an area where you can afford to give extra attention. Established native plants will bounce back quickly when the rain returns. Nonetheless, several plants can survive on little water.Drought-tolerant plants to conserve water and provide an essential food source for pollinators

Some examples of drought-tolerant plants are:

  • Agave
  • Artemisias
  • Asters
  • Baby’s Breath
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Cosmos
  • Delphinium
  • Echeveria
  • Echinacea
  • Gloriosa Daisy
  • Iris
  • Lamb’s Ears
  • Lavender
  • Macrocarpa
  • Marigold
  • Pansy
  • Penstemon
  • Phlox
  • Red Plume Blanket
  • Rose Campion
  • Sages
  • Santolina
  • Sedums
  • Sempervivum
  • Statice
  • Sunflower
  • Tulips and crocuses
  • Vinca
  • Yarrow
  • Yucca
  • Zinnias

xeriscape landscape design principles

Little or No Lawn

If you don’t need a lawn, get rid of it. Keeping a lawn green uses an exorbitant amount of water. If you want to have a green area, try using low-maintenance ground covers or drought-tolerant grass species for your area. Check with your local garden center for recommendations.

Related: Grow Food Not Lawn

Agave and succulent drought-tolerant garden design

Improving Soil

The perfect soil in a water-conserving landscape needs to drain well and retain moisture.What? Yes, it is possible. You can achieve this by adding good compost and manure to feed your soil. Again, the soil needs to match the requirements of the plants. For example, succulents and cacti need sandy/lean soil and would not benefit from a compost rich soil. If you are unsure of your soil chemistry, get a soil test kit from your local garden center or contact your local extension service.

Related: Soil Food for Greener Gardens: Find the Best Amendments in Your Own Backyard


Mulch helps retain soil moisture, mitigate temperature fluctuations, prevent erosion and smother weeds. Organic mulch such as leaves, coarse compost, bark, pine needles or grass clippings will break down over the course of a season and incorporate into the soil. This will help improve the soil over time as well. You need to add more as it breaks down. In order for mulch to be effective, it needs to be several inches thick.

xeriscape landscape designWatering Wisely

In order to water effectively, water needs to be applied to the base of the plant. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are the easiest and most efficient way to get water to the base of your plants, not overhead sprinklers. If an irrigation system is not in your budget, then hand water in the mornings or early evenings: avoid the middle/hottest part of the day. Watering in the mornings and early evenings will ensure that the plants absorb the water and little will be lost to evaporation. Aim for a deep watering 2-3 times a week versus a light daily watering.

Even if your area is not experiencing a drought, xeriscaping principles can save you time and money. By employing the basic xeriscaping principles, your garden will flourish with little effort.

For more on plants used in xeriscaping, see this list of the top 10 Drought-Tolerant Perennials to grow in your garden.The top 10 drough-tolerant perennials to grow in your garden (and save water!)

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