Xeriscape for a Water-Efficient Garden

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Silver Sage Artemisia
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Jupiter’s Beard
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Meadow Sages

“There are somewhere between thirty and fifty thousand pesticide formulations available today. Perhaps 10 percent of them have had some sort of safety assessment done on them.”
–From Building a Healthy Lawn: A Safe and Natural Approach By Stuart Franklin, Storey Communication, 1988. 

The Xeriscape, or water-efficient, approach to landscaping offers so many outstanding benefits over traditional highly watered landscaping that it is surprising it hasn’t emerged as the most common form of landscape design. The extraordinary savings in water alone are so significant, both to individual property owners and to municipalities trying to keep up with water demand, that water-wise landscaping is commanding increasing consideration as a relevant part of water supply planning. In addition, the potential saving in initial landscape construction, as well as in ongoing maintenance, is substantial.

The Xeriscape approach to land­scaping is truly a good-news story. As Doug Welsh, president of the National Xeriscape Council, states, “Xeriscape is an opportunity to take a proactive stance and exhibit a true stewardship approach to the most precious of natural resources. It is a ‘win-win’ situation. Everyone wins: The water agency does its job of efficiently using its resources; the landscape professionals help to bring beauty to the community and ensure their livelihood; the gardener gets a quality landscape that requires less water, less maintenance, and ultimately less dollars; and the educator receives satisfaction by being a facilitator in the entire orchestration of Xeriscape programs.”

Xeriscape Fundamentals

The seven Xeriscape fundamentals provide a quick idea of how water-efficient landscaping is able to provide so many advantages over traditional landscaping.

1. Plan and design comprehensively from the beginning.

2. Create turf areas of manageable sizes, shapes, and appropriate grasses.

3. Use appropriate plants, and zone according to plants’ water needs.

4. Consider improving the soil with organic matter like compost or manure.

5. Consider utilizing mulches, such as wood chips.

6. Irrigate efficiently with properly designed systems and by applying the right amount of water at the right time.

7. Maintain the natural landscape appropriately by mowing, pruning, and fertilizing properly.

Environmental Benefits

A general increasing concern about environmental issues is causing many people to rethink the way we use all natural resources, and this often raises concerns about hardship, sacrifice, and lower quality of life. Water-conserving landscaping, however, offers a very real way to reduce negative environmental impacts while actually improving the quality of life.

In a time of increasing awareness of limited resources, the rationality of ­investing so much in planting, fertilizing, mowing, and harvesting a “crop” [of lawn grass] that we usually throw away is questionable at best, especially with so many good alternatives.

Extensive use of plants that often require widespread use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers causes significant problems that can be avoided by using plants more naturally suited to each site.

The practical advantages of the Xeri­scape approach to landscaping clearly make it possible for everyone to do ­something about many environmental problems we face.

From The Xeriscape Flower Gardener by Jim Knopf. Copyright © 1991, James M. Knopf. Reprinted with permission of Johnson Publishing Company.

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