Xeriscaping is a landscaping system that uses as many native, drought-resistant plants as possible and arranges them in efficient, water-saving ways. In other words, xeriscaping is form of landscaping intended to reduce water and fertilizer consumption. Those who have never heard the name may already know its techniques, because its principles are commonly used in landscaping and often work well. Some people who are aware of the concept mistakenly refer to it as “zero-scape,” as in the use of no water. Others have a negative perception of xeriscaping, thinking that the practice involves the use of barren, rocky landscapes and a few cacti.
Xeriscaping was first developed in the western United States, where limited water resources in California called for conservation measures even at the household level of society. Since then, it has spread to every region of the country for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is the conservation not of water, but of natural ecosystems themselves.
Essential principles to xeriscaping are: appropriate planning and design, soil improvement, plant selection, practical turf areas, watering, use of mulch and maintenance.
Slow-growing, drought tolerant species are introduced alongside of indigenous vegetation already accustomed to the annual rainfall levels of a particular area. This eliminates the need to water the landscape daily, and it saves on water resources and the costs of water usage. Fertilizer use is also eliminated by the slow-growth of flora that are used to thriving in harsh conditions and need little pampering from human hands to gain a foothold in a cultivated environment.
Choosing the right plants is the most important part. These plants will be the main attraction and define the landscape. But the location and grouping of plants can greatly affect the amount of water used. First of all, native plants are usually the best choice for a xeriscaping project. Although it’s possible to use plants from other regions, there’s a chance that outside vegetation won’t adapt quickly to a new locale, and you’ll be stuck with an empty lawn. It’s also important, of course, that the plants are drought-tolerant and don’t require much water – local gardening centers that participate in xeriscaping should have extensive lists of the kinds of plants that will work.
Plants that need more sunlight grow best when they’re placed on the western side of a landscape – that way they’ll receive the most possible sunlight as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Whether plants are located high or low on a landscape is also important. Plants that need very little water can sit at higher elevations, while ones that need more can sit lower to collect any excess water.
It may surprise some to learn that fertilizers can be just as bad for the environment as pesticides. This is because they are made for garden plants and have a chemical constitution that is toxic to almost wild plants. Pesticides, which are also toxic by nature, kill birds, fish, and wildlife almost as frequently as they do pests. When plants treated with these chemicals are constantly trimmed, the waste matter from garden plants now becomes a biohazard. If they are dumped behind buildings or ditches as they are by many lawn care services, this only creates a toxic dump that the next rain will subsequently spread throughout the city.
In such an environment, xeriscaping with extremely slow-growth indigenous plants is often the key to ending pollution once and for all. Native plants have evolved resistance to native pests and do not require chemical treatment to survive. If slow-growth plants are carefully selective from the surrounding flora rather than being imported from exotic locales, it is conceivable that lawns and gardens could then be developed that no longer needed to rely upon chemical treatments and trimming by lawn service workers.
While it may not be immediately obvious, xeriscaping could offer a city an entirely new landscape using plant material carefully selected from the old! The Gulf Coast was not an ugly place when settlers arrived. The city has simply grown so quickly that much of the native beauty of this part of the world has been built over and covered up.
Most of us are so busy that we drive over bridges every day without even realizing that we actually live in the floodplain of a very complex and intricate system of bayous. These bayous have suffered greatly from chemical pollution, and many native fish, bird, and animal species have all but disappeared from our back yards. Think about the last time you saw a box turtle or horned lizard in your back yard the way you did 30 years ago. Such occurrences are rare—if not gone altogether— in many of our neighborhoods because of lawn services that use inordinately toxic chemicals and dispose irresponsibly of grass and plant clippings.
The options for attractive landscapes are by no means limited or inferior to traditional forms. There are countless species native to Texas that can be used that will minimize the need for fertilizer use and weekly lawn service without sacrificing beauty in the process. These plants can be used in the same landscaping designs that are already popular. Parterre gardens, knot gardens, French gardens, and Italian gardens can all be xeriscaped just as much as they can be landscaped.