Xeriscape Landscaping: A Complete Guide to a Drought Tolerant Yard

Are you considering setting up your home with the perfect Xeriscape landscaping design? If you are looking for the perfect landscape ideas to save water around your home, Xeriscaping is one of the best and most popular design types. Find out everything you need to know about this type of design, and what you can expect.

Xeriscaping is a unique form of landscaping that focuses on water conservation and drought-tolerant plants that make the most of available resources in your space. This eco-friendly landscaping often takes advantage of native plants and other components to create a low-maintenance yet beautiful outdoor space.

There are many different states where Xeriscaping is popular. This is because of their lower water needs, but because these types of desert-oriented plants in this habitat are also quite hardy. This means they can grow in most arid conditions.

So, do you think that Xeriscaping could be the next gardening trend that you’d like to follow? In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about this landscape type, and what to expect when planting drought-resistant plants.

What is Xeriscape Landscaping?

Xeriscaping is landscaping or gardening that requires little to no irrigation to thrive. Several parts of the United States enjoy a dry climate and display various kinds of xeriscaping. However, in some areas, xeriscaping is the only practical type of gardening available.

Xeriscaping is an alternative to traditional gardening, but it includes similar concepts such as improving the soil, preventing runoff, and promoting biodiversity. This type of landscaping produces green spaces that require little maintenance or water, but there’s often a negative public perception.

Xeriscaping also includes using drought-tolerant plants, which tend to grow well in places like:

  • North Dakota
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • South Dakota
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Texas
  • Southern California

All of these states happen to fall where annual rainfall is low, but other places of the world have comparable amounts of rain and similar conditions. Xeriscaping is not meant for humid climates like Florida, or anywhere in the southeastern United States where moisture is plentiful.

How is Xeriscaping Different?

Xeriscaped Flowers Near Path
Landscaping with drought resistant plants helps reduce water consumption.

Xeriscaping combines the Greek prefix “xero,” which means dry or arid, with the latter half of the word “landscape.” This term often gets confused as zeroscaping since the words sound similar. Zeroscaping refers to a type of gardening or landscaping that uses few or no plants.

This type of gardening is trendy in areas with almost no rainfall and ideal for individuals that want a garden with no maintenance.

Xeriscaping still promotes biodiversity similar to other types of landscaping; however, this landscaping goes beyond the cacti, and gravel people typically expect when they hear this term. A garden that uses xeriscaping principles might include a wide variety of plants or a single type, and some of the plants that fit with this style of gardening look surprisingly lush.

Unlike other types of landscaping, with xeriscaping, there is a limited amount of turf or grass, and water-efficient plants get priority. Soil amendments and mulches are also equally as common in xeriscaping as they are in other types of landscaping because they help the ground retain moisture.

Maintaining a xeriscaped space is a little bit different than with other landscaping. Many kinds of traditional landscaping require frequent watering, fertilizer, and plant maintenance at regular intervals. Xeriscaping has a limited amount of fertilizing, very little irrigation, and a minimal amount of plant maintenance.

Xeriscaping is also more likely to utilize different kinds of gravel as a mulch to retain moisture, while other landscaping primarily uses rubber or wood mulch, bark, or other organic matter.

Is Xeriscaping Right for My Space?

If you live in an arid environment, a xeriscaped space can help you enjoy plant life with little maintenance and little water. Xeriscaping is also a good option for those who want to use fewer resources in general and invest a minimal amount of labor but still want a nice outdoor plant space.

Many parts of the US also have inexpensive materials such as rocks and gravel available throughout the year, but other traditional landscaping materials like sod or hardwood mulch are pricey. In these areas, choosing a design that makes the most out of economical landscaping supplies can reduce the overall cost of the garden setup.

Some people aren’t fond of plants and gardening, and that’s where xeriscaping comes in handy! By xeriscaping, it’s possible to schedule your gardening time during the year to minimize your efforts but keep your garden looking picture perfect.

The Benefits of Xeriscaping

Creeping Thyme Landscaping
Depending on where you live, xeriscaping can be an excellent landscaping choice.

With a xeriscaped garden comes several benefits, including water conservation and low maintenance. Other benefits include a more diverse range of natural plants, lower cost, and reduced weeds.

Maintenance

When gardening an area using xeriscaping principles, you’ll likely have fewer plants and even fewer weeds than you might imagine. Since xeriscaping makes the most out of a small amount of water, many weeds and certain types of plants can’t survive.

Since the weeds can’t survive these conditions, chances are good you’ll have less weeding to do, and using gravel as mulch means you won’t have to add more mulch each year. You will still need to work on your soil to keep up the nutrients your plants need, but this task is easily accomplished with specific types of fertilizer and other soil amendments.

When you design your xeriscape garden, you can decide how much effort you’d like to put into the plants and how often you want to be out in the garden working on them. For many individuals, less time is better, so they choose plants that don’t need pruning or other attention.

Biodiversity and Natural Beauty

It’s still possible to have a diverse group of plants when you use xeric-friendly specimens, but many individuals choose only a few species. If you want to have a tidy-looking garden space with truly minimal labor involved, using fewer types of plants in your design can help drastically.

Xeriscaping still produces beautiful outdoor spaces with plenty of natural color and texture. Plants such as succulents come in a wide variety of colors and shapes, and other types of plants such as lavender produce a wonderful scent.

Xeric plants include many varieties, such as Century Plants, which are both eye-catching and practical. Other excellent flowering options include olive trees, blanket flowers, and coreopsis, which produce brightly colored blooms throughout the season.

Your xeriscaping can also benefit from a collection of rocks and gravel strategically placed to add visual interest and texture. Stones also allow for water drainage without losing valuable topsoil. Using the right kinds of mulch can create a tidy appearance in your garden but also helps to retain valuable moisture.

Water Conservation

Desert Garden
Water conservation is one of the many benefits of xeriscaping.

The design of your xeriscaping matters quite a bit when it comes to water conservation and thriving plants. Some plants need more water, so you’ll place them in parts of the garden that are lower where water is more likely to collect.

Likewise, some plants need very little water and prefer to be somewhat dry most of the time. These specimens make ideal candidates for the higher and dryer parts of your space. It’s also worth noting that when you carefully choose plants based on their preferred growing conditions, it’s more likely that you won’t need to water them as often.

The rain that your garden gets naturally might be enough, or you might need to supplement on a weekly or monthly basis. Adding mulch also helps to retain moisture and keeps the roots of the plants cool.

Choosing a xeriscaped garden instead of a traditional garden will help save a significant amount of water even if you choose plants with higher moisture demands than others. Despite some xeric plants being drought-tolerant and requiring very little water, they can be as impressive as other forms of green life.

Some individuals decide to have a professional irrigation system installed to keep their outdoor space adequately hydrated. This option also helps by minimizing wasted water. These systems often deliver the water beneath the ground to avoid water wasted from evaporation. It’s also worth considering paved areas that allow water to pass through and flow naturally to where it’s needed.

Lower Overall Costs

A xeriscaped garden still needs some maintenance, such as pruning and water, but you’ll be saving money on several different components. For example, by using gravel and rocks as mulch, you’ll retain sufficient moisture, and as an added benefit, you won’t have to replenish them annually as you would with wood or bark mulch.

You’ll also save quite a bit on water, as the design of your landscaping directs the water to where it’s needed, and your plants require less water in general. When there’s little to no turf or grass, you can save more money on water, fertilizer, and anti-weed treatments.

Xeriscaping doesn’t mean you have to give up on big showy flowers or lush green foliage, but by choosing the correct plants, you’ll have ongoing growth without needing to replant. Many perennial varieties require little water and grow slowly, so they have a long lifespan.

There are upfront costs to converting your space to a xeriscaped area, but some areas offer cash-back style incentives and rebates, so it’s worth checking with your local city and state offices. Over time the most substantial cost reductions come from the lower maintenance costs and lower water bills.

The Drawbacks of Xeriscaping

Cactus Landscaping Front Yard
There are some drawbacks to xeriscaping, including a more limited plant selection.

Xeriscaping comes with a few drawbacks similar to any landscaping, but many individuals find it worth the effort so they can enjoy their gardens with less maintenance.

Little to No Turf

In some situations having turf or grass is an option with xeriscaping, but most often you’ll find that people resort to artificial turf to cut down on their water needs. While artificial turf is a beautiful and functional option, some individuals find it hard to adjust or decide to do without it entirely.

A lack of turf doesn’t always work for families that have active children. Likewise, households with pets or other needs of a grassy area outdoors might have to consider alternatives.

Plant Selection is Crucial

With xeriscaping, you can’t just go to the garden center and pick out random plants to put in the ground. Carefully selecting your plants is crucial to the overall success of your outdoor space, and you’ll need to choose plants that fit your overall design and water availability.

Gardeners can still choose plants with a visual beauty that provides color, but you won’t necessarily have an entire garden full of water-hogging plants. Keeping your plant selection practical and sticking to your design will ensure that your space is beautiful for years to come with minimal maintenance. Trees like Palm Trees are crucial, as they require very little water to survive.

Layout Becomes Vital

When designing your xeriscaped garden, it’s essential that you create a design that takes advantage of the available water and where it flows naturally through the space. If you have trouble figuring this out, it’s worth consulting a professional that can help you blend the available water resources and how you wish to use your space.

The layout of your garden often dictates how many plants you can incorporate and what type of specimen would do best. This information also has a direct impact on the overall cost. Sticking to your layout also allows you to properly schedule necessary tasks such as water, pruning, aeration, and fertilizing.

Can I Use Xeriscape Landscaping Anywhere?

Flowers Xeriscaped in Backyard
This type of landscaping can be used anywhere you wish to conserve water.

Yes! Xeriscaping is an excellent option anywhere you wish to conserve water outdoors and still have beautiful plant life. Xeriscaping often brings to mind large gravel areas and stoic-looking plants that rarely bloom, but this is not the only kind of xeriscaping possible.

If your area has more water available, you can select different plants that are still drought tolerant and require little water but have an overall appearance you find more appealing.

A lot of xeriscaping also uses gravel as the primary type of mulch. However, if hardwood mulch makes more sense in your area due to cost, availability, or overall performance, then you can use that in your xeriscaping as well.

This heightened level of diversity in xeriscaping is one of the reasons why it appeals to people from various geographical locations. Depending on your climate, you may choose multiple cacti or succulents, while other gardens use perennials that grow from bulbs, ground covers, and other hardy plants.

Getting Started

Xeriscaped Backyard Design
Planning your design and plant selection are the two most important steps.

There are a few steps you can take to simplify the process of creating a successful xeriscaped space. Start by planning an overall design, and work towards making the most of your resources to reap all possible benefits from this type of gardening.

Plan a Design

To add xeriscaping to your outdoor space, the first thing you’ll want to do is learn about the natural conditions in your area and decide how you want to use your garden area.

First, determine the growing seasons in your area, as this provides valuable cues for planting, fertilizing, and other maintenance to expect. Then you can determine how much rainfall to expect and when and if your plants will do well over the winter or die off and grow back in the spring.

This information will help you choose plants that bloom at different times, determine how much rainfall to expect at various times, and allow you to decide when to install your xeric plants. Hardiness zones also help guide you to the right plants as it’s a standard guideline that makes it easier for gardeners to figure out what to plant.

The design should also incorporate areas where water collects or where water is more sparse so you can select plants that do well in those types of conditions. Not all plants are as drought tolerant as cacti or succulents, and you’ll want to choose plants that grow to various heights so you can plan on putting taller ones farther back.

Carefully Choose Plants

When choosing plants, you’ll want to create a combination of different heights for the most aesthetic appeal. You’ll also want a mix that provides blooms or other visual interests throughout the year. Often, native plants work best in both regards and have the added benefit of being innately well suited for your climate.

Your outdoor area also has different amounts of water and sunlight in different spots, so choose your plants with those conditions in mind so that they all thrive. If you find plants you like that work well in an area with a similar climate to your own; those plants may also work well in a xeriscaped space.

Selecting plants for their aesthetic properties is vital, but pay careful attention to their level of drought tolerance and susceptibility to certain diseases or pests. Some plants are more vulnerable than others, and you want to select hardy specimens that won’t require additional care or treatments to grow their best.

Consider Your Soil

Planting Soil in Desert Garden
Soil selection is critical when planting drought resistant plants.

If your soil isn’t great, don’t worry! You can always amend your soil by adding compost, sand, and other substances until it’s just right for your garden. You can’t completely change the soil into something alien to your area, but you can spruce it up a bit so that your plants will grow better.

Some xeric plants need fertilizer even if you have good soil, but not all plants require additional nutrients. Once you find out what you need to add to your soil to make it ideal for planting, it’s possible to add amendments twice a year to keep up the overall available nutrients.

Improving your soil can vastly help with water retention and improve the overall texture while keeping the alkalinity at a level that your plants prefer.

Choose the Right Mulch

Gravel mulch is very popular with xeric gardening, but it’s not the only choice. Regardless of what you use, a thick layer of mulch holds valuable moisture and keeps the roots of your plants cool no matter how high temperatures get.

Wood mulch isn’t the best choice for all types of plants, and some types of mulch, such as pine, can increase soil acidity. Mulch comes in various colors and textures, making it a great option if you want to match it with any other design elements.

Stone or gravel doesn’t need replacing, but they’re best in somewhat shady areas or gardens where the heat they soak up won’t damage your plants. In some applications, hot stones used as mulch may cause valuable moisture to evaporate.

Water Mindfully

Desert Plants Irrigating Water
Make sure you understand how water works in your space before designing your garden.

Since part of the design of your xeriscaping involves understanding how water works in your space, it’s easy to determine where the water you add needs to go. For example, you may not water each plant individually, but adding water at one location and allowing it to flow through the space is another option.

Watering from below is another way of getting water to the roots of your plants without waste through evaporation. Some plants have deeper roots, and watering them deeper helps them get the moisture they need with less water wasted.

Perform Scheduled Maintenance

Traditional xeriscaping typically involves plants that are slow-growing and don’t require much trimming. You’ll simply clear out any dead plant matter when needed, prune or trim only when needed, and water them just enough to keep them alive.

For more lush xeriscaping, you might need to water and fertilize more often than once or twice a year. Very few xeric plants need fertilizer each time they get watered. Adding fertilizer once each month or two times each growing season is more common.

Frequently Asked Questions

You’ve probably seen xeriscaped gardens in your area, but you may not be familiar with how they work. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about xeriscaping, so you know what to expect.

Is it expensive to install a Xeriscaped garden?

The cost of installing a xeriscaped garden can vary immensely based on several factors, such as the amount of space, how many plants you want to have, and how much preparation your site requires.

What if I want a garden with truly zero maintenance?

No garden is genuinely maintenance-free, but there are xeriscaping options that get reasonably close. Consider hardy, drought-tolerant native plants that grow slowly and don’t change much over the seasons and gravel or stone mulch.

Are rocks the only mulch option?

Rocks are not the only mulch option for your xeric plants, but they often get used in dry and arid locations where wood mulch wouldn’t perform as well. Rocks don’t need replenishing each year but still hold moisture in the soil, which makes them an ideal option for some types of xeriscaping in every hardiness zone.

Final Thoughts

Xeriscape landscaping is an excellent option for individuals that want a beautiful garden and minimal maintenance and water consumption. In areas where water is scarce, this type of landscaping can help you arrange your plants so they thrive with very little water and other resources wasted in the process.

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