Xeriscaping for Everyone: Conserve Water in the Garden

Design your garden with water efficiency in mind, and you’ll spend less time fussing over your greenery and more time enjoying it.

| March/April 2003

When you live in Arizona and spend your summers lugging hoses around, trying to grow a lawn of Kentucky bluegrass (that ends up Cleveland brown anyhow), it’s obvious you need a water-saving landscape. Likewise, if you’re from central Texas and face $2,000 fines for overwatering during a drought, no one needs to convince you that xeriscaping is the way to go. But xeriscaping, a term derived from the Greek word for “dry,” isn’t just for arid climates. It’s a holistic approach to landscaping based on the premise that using resources efficiently and cultivating regionally appropriate plants is both better for the planet and requires less work.

Nearly half the water used by U.S. households ends up on lawns and gardens. And at least half of that water is simply wasted—an extravagance we can no longer afford. Most of our fresh water comes from underground aquifers that took millions of years to form. And many of those reservoirs are now being depleted faster than they’re being replenished. If we continue in this vein, we’ll end up either literally high and dry or with unusable water—as has happened in some parts of Florida, where groundwater is turning salty as seawater replaces drained fresh water.

Then, of course, there’s global warming. As temperatures rise, we’ll need more water than ever at a time when scientists are forecasting more frequent and severe droughts—a trend many parts of the country are already experiencing. If this scenario is too depressing to think about, then focus on the purely practical benefits of reducing your own water usage: It saves time and money.

Take inventory

Although water-efficient landscaping takes less effort to maintain over the long haul, it does require some careful thought at the outset.

Start by taking inventory of your yard. Some spots may naturally collect water. Clearly those are good places for thirsty plants. In the woods, plants with similar water needs grow near each other. If we ignore nature’s lead and put thirsty roses next to a cactus, we end up wasting water and harming the plants.

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