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Seven Basic Principles of Xeriscaping

The term “Xeriscape” (verb: Xeriscaping) has become common vernacular in Texas, as a means to reduce water consumption and improve the quality of the environment. A noble goal, but an obtuse definition. 

 While the term can mean different things to many people, a more usable definition is:

Xeriscape: A comprehensive approach to landscape design that accounts for microclimate and soil conditions on the site to create a sustainable solution. 

This is also a little unclear, so we’ll use the 7 Basic Principles of Xeriscaping from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service with bullet point clarification to hopefully make these usable and actionable.

1. Planning and Design

          • Before you start demolition or planting (or let anyone else do it for you), make sure a plan is in place

          • A good design should account for areas of sun and shade, wind, any drainage or erosion, existing structures, and your needs for the site (play areas, seating, screening views, etc.)

2. Soil Analysis

          • This can be tough in a residential setting since soil samples can be expensive and hard to interpret, but contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – they’ll be able to help you tell what kind of soil you have

          • Walk your yard and look for areas of compacted soil, or places where the soil has washed away or is all sand. Use this walk-through to develop a plan to amend the soil with compost or aerate it.

3. Practical Turf Areas

          • Turfgrass lawns account for a huge percentage of the water used in the U.S. every year, and one of the quickest ways to recognize a xeriscape yard is minimal, or no lawn

          • If you are needing a lawn for kids to play in, take irrigation into account with your design. Different types of spray irrigation have different throw radius, and designing your lawn to fit your irrigation makes watering much more efficient. 

4. Appropriate Plant Selection

          • Selecting drought-tolerant native or adapted plant material is one of the better-understood elements of Xeriscape

          • Also account for shade, sun, height, spread, possible poisonous or prickly plants, and what you want the plants to do for you (screening views or forming a wind block) when you’re selecting species

5. Efficient Irrigation

          • The use of high-efficiency irrigation, like drip for planting beds, has become a best practice in the landscape industry

          • While drip can work for sod (not seed) lawn areas too, it can present maintenance problems over time. If turf grass roots clog or damage the drip line, it’s difficult to know where the clog is happening, and even more difficult to repair without complete removal and re-sodding.

          • Some other methods for irrigating lawn, which can be efficient if properly designed, are rotors and rotating spray heads. With our wind, regular spray irrigation can be horribly inefficient and conversion to rotating sprays is very easy and economical.

6. Use of mulches

          • Xeriscape doesn’t just mean rock mulch. Organic mulches actually provide much more benefit for soil quality and plant health, but they can be higher in maintenance. Luckily, the City of Midland Community Collections Center offers free, high-quality organic mulch to residents all through the year.

          • No matter which mulch you choose, using mulch to cover bare ground and surround trees helps the soil stay in place and retain moisture – reducing the need for frequent irrigation

7. Appropriate Maintenance

          • Maintenance is the least favorite part of the landscape for most people, but using these Xeriscape principals can help reduce it to a manageable task

          • When using drought-tolerant plants, it is often necessary to trim back perennials during the winter of each year. This helps give grasses and flowering shrubs room for new growth reduces fire hazard and prevents the need for ongoing maintenance throughout the year.

          • Another good way to make maintenance more manageable is to keep plants requiring more intensive care (like Roses and herb/vegetable gardens) close to the house. You’re more likely to tend to them if they are close by.

          • For lawns, keep the grass mowed at appropriate heights. It can be attractive to have lawns cut extremely short, but this can encourage weed growth and allow more sunlight to reach the soil, evaporating water, and increasing the need for irrigation. A properly-cut lawn not only functions better but reduces irrigation needs.

Xeriscaping Not Zeroscaping

 By David Salman 

Click Photo for an article from Hill Country Gardens