Xeriscaping is rapidly growing in popularity especially in regions that experience extreme hot and dry weather. The many reasons drought-resistant landscaping is becoming more appealing for home and business owners includes the minimal maintenance required, water conservation and low cost. While it's not for everyone it does have distinct advantages over the traditional water-hungry natural grass lawn and high maintenance garden, which we will discuss below.
If the term xeriscaping is new to you, you no doubt have questions even including how to pronounce it! The terms smartscaping and climate appropriate landscaping are often used to describe it because it's both smart and resilient to long periods of no rainfall. It utilizes native plants that survive and thrive on the typical rainfall in any given area including dry and desert-like climates. The end result is an attractive landscape rich in colour and character that requires little or no water and maintenance.
What is xeriscaping exactly? The word itself is comprised of two parts, xeric and scape; the word xeric describes an environment that contains little or no moisture and subsequently is very dry. The word scape is easiest defined as a view, scene or picture. When you combine the two words you come up with the meaning which is scenic landscaping suited for dry environments. In a nutshell, xeriscape landscapes are designed to tolerate hot and dry climates with little or no need for supplementary irrigation.
So, how do you pronounce xeriscape? It's pronounced zare-e-scape but it's not the same as zeroscape. Let's take a look at the differences and clarify a little bit more what xeriscaping means.
While xeriscaping and zeroscaping are similar and even get used interchangeably they are in fact not the same thing. Zeroscape is a landscape philosophy that utilizes no plants and in essence has zero liveable parts. It's landscaping that in entirety is comprised of rock, gravel, wood and even dirt. Xeriscape is a landscape designed for dry climates but where it differs from zeroscape, it includes many vibrant and colourful plants, bushes and trees. There are countless low water landscape xeriscaping ideas to choose from including ones that are quick and easy.
The benefits of xeriscaping start with water conservation. The average Canadian uses over 300 litres of water per day which increases to over 1700 litres of water per day in the summer. An even more alarming statistic is that over 80% of water used in the summer is wasted on watering grass, washing the driveway or sidewalk and keeping your vehicle clean.
A xeriscape landscape will reduce water usage by up to 75%. You will be eliminating your burden on the local water supply and doing your part to help conserve the environment. It requires no fertilizers and pesticides virtually eliminating pollutants that end up in our drinking water. No more lawn mower emissions or grass clippings that end up in landfills that contribute the the greenhouse issues we currently face.
The downside to xeriscaping is you won't have a green natural grass lawn to look at and possibly kick the soccer ball around on. If you have children that love playing on the lawn or pets that love frolicking on the grass they may miss the natural lawn. While these may be downsides it can be remedied with the introduction of life-like artificial grass that requires no water. It's super low maintenance and will give your children and pets somewhere to play without all the negatives of a real grass lawn.
The original xeriscaping principals were developed in Denver, Colorado in the early 1980's in a forward thinking effort to reduce water consumption. The 7 principles of xeriscaping explain how to convert any landscape in easy-to-understand language. These principles that detail how to xeriscape from start to finish still hold true today and are as valuable as ever in a time of increasing water shortages and rising cost of supplemental irrigation. Keep in mind that xeriscape planning in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley will differ from other areas of British Columbia like Vancouver and Prince George.
Planning and Design
The planning and design of any xeriscape project should include a rough bird's-eye view diagram of the entire area to be upgraded. The scale diagram will act as a guide that you can refer to throughout the entire project as you incorporate the other steps; irrigation installation, plant zones, mulch and artificial grass. As you plan each water-saving step you can go back and make changes to the diagram until you come up with a final plan that's ready to execute.
Start by measuring the property lines and the outline of the area to be xeriscaped. This can include fence lines, sidewalks, patios and exterior house walls. If you are xeriscaping your front yard you will want to measure property lines, driveway, sidewalk and the existing walkway. We recommend using a scale of 1:10 for simplicity and accuracy; every 10 feet of actual distance scaled to 1 centimeter. After you have transferred the measurements accurately to your diagram it's time to add existing trees or plants you'd like to keep as part of your plan.
This is where you really need to think about sun and rain exposure including the location of water spouts, natural drainage and shade. A great way to determine sun exposure is to determine and include a North direction on your plan diagram. Include everything that could affect sun and water exposure for your new xeriscaping plants like; fences, walls, trees and slopes. The images above are courtesy of The City of Kamloops: Creating a Kamloops Xeriscape PDF Brochure that's a great resource for anyone wanting more information on how to transform their own yard.
A great way to simplify and clearly define different zones is to colour code the zones based on sunlight, precipitation and water requirements. This will make is very clear what kinds of plants will survive and thrive in different locations in your xeriscaping project area. You want to utilize drought-resistant xeriscaping plants in areas that receive the most sunlight and little or no precipitation.
The final consideration is thinking about how the area will be used from a functional perspective. If the area is going to be frequented by large dogs or adventurous children you should plan accordingly with kid and pet-friendly xeriscaping. An areas designed to be a quiet place to relax in the evening will be somewhat different than a child's play area. The planning part of any xeriscape project is the most fun because you get to decide which plants to incorporate based on the variety of colours, sizes and shapes available.
Soil selection or improvement is an integral part of any successful xeriscaping plan. While native plants will thrive in native soil you more than likely won't be dealing with native soil. If it was introduced to your yard during construction you could have any type of soil made up varying amounts of sand, silt or clay. Important characteristics of soil to consider include; drainage, texture, organic matter, pH, fertility, and salinity.
The addition of about 2 inches of organic compost can convert almost any soil to a xeriscaping friendly environment. You want to mix the 2 inches of organic soil into the top 6 inches of existing soil. The resulting blend will keep plants cool, help prevent evaporation and retain water for longer periods. Keep in mind that sand will not retain moisture, while clay-rich soils will retain the most water. When choosing your xeriscaping plants be sure to either match the plants to the soil or you can build the soil to suit the plants you choose.
An efficient xeriscaping landscape plan requires carefully thought out irrigation. If you are using plants that require very little water you will likely still need irrigation during the hottest, drought-filled periods of summer. This can be achieved through watering by hand or installing an automatic drip irrigation system.
An ideal xeriscaping plan will have plants grouped appropriately based on practical variables such as sunlight hours, drainage and soil quality and of course colour and aesthetics. You can even take it a step further and plan for bloom times, insect repellents or bird attractants. A well planned out yard or garden will make irrigation planning, usage and winter care easier and provide a low maintenance system that can be relied on year after year.
If you water by hand try to avoid fine sprays or mists because of the high percentage of water that evaporates. The most efficient method for watering is direct drip irrigation or bubblers that release big drops as close to the ground as possible. Automatic sprinklers should be installed with drip and bubbler systems or micro sprays. Water between 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. when it's coolest, and never water during the day. An environmentally responsible xeriscaping plan can include a rain barrel or an automated sprinkler system and irrigation controller with rain sensor.
Every plant has its own unique sunlight, water and temperature requirements. Plants will survive and flourish when exposed to the ideal climate as determined by the plant hardiness zones in Canada. You want to group plants together that have similar sunlight and water requirements. This shouldn't limit your creativity because there are countless xeriscaping plants to choose from that vary in colour, height, size and texture. Plants that require the most water should be placed in the shade of other plants or trees, in low-lying drainage areas or beside a water spout.
Mulch is an important part of your xeriscaping plan because of its ability to reduce evaporation, keep the root zone cool, help prevent weed growth and prevent erosion. In addition to the practical side of mulch you can create amazing looking colour accents with naturally coloured wood chips, bark and rock. Any area where plants or artificial grass aren't present should receive a layer of landscape fabric topped with a mulch of your choice.
The best organic mulch for xeriscaping are wood-based materials such as wood chips, peelings and bark from woods like cedar or pine. You may also want to consider compost, sawdust, leaf litter, grass clippings and shredded newspaper. While they may need to be replaced every few years to prevent rot, these organic mulches are best for keeping soil cool.
Inorganic mulches such as ornamental stone, river rock, crushed gravel or lava rock are low maintenance options that don't need to be replaced nearly as often and look great for many years. The downside is these types of mulches will retain heat and increase water requirements for adjacent plants. An ornamental landscape rock can be used place of an organic bark mulch but that's only recommended in shaded areas or areas with xeriscape plants.
Replacing an existing natural grass lawn with a low-water xeriscape landscape is one of the biggest steps you can take to reducing and potentially eliminating water wastage. It will reduce water consumption, eliminate the need for pesticides and herbicides and decrease the burden on our landfills. In North America and close to home here in the Okanagan Valley a nice green lawn has become a cultural norm and even status symbol. While natural lawns look fantastic when they are green, thick and freshly cut they come with a high price to both our pockets and planet.
Ornamental natural grass lawns are the most irrigated crop on the continent based on surface area.
The alternatives to natural grass are extensive and include xeriscaping grasses like blue grama, buffalo grass and blue fescue that survive and thrive in native soils and the hot, dry climate in Kelowna. They require very little supplemental water and there are countless other drought-resistant plants if you want to get creative. While you can't play soccer on this type of grass you can achieve a great looking yard that is gentle on our fragile environment.
A concept growing in popularity is removing an existing natural front yard lawn and replacing it with a reduced size artificial grass lawn area surrounded by xeriscaping. This concept results in an ultra low maintenance yard that looks great with a combination of natural looking grass, colourful plants and ornamental rocks. The bonus is that it requires almost no maintenance and little or no water even in the hottest and driest months of the year.
Xeriscaping maintenance may include occasional hand watering which can be very simple and hands-off with an integrated sprinkler system. Trees or plants may require pruning every year which is most often carried out in the early spring. You may also want to remove old flowers throughout the year to promote growth while preventing the seeds from spreading. An occasional weeding may also be required but that should be minimal if a quality landscape cloth was used underneath the mulch or rock.
If you have made it this far you are likely curious about some good xeriscaping ideas that you can use in your own yard. Whether you want to incorporate this concept in your front yard or backyard there are a ton of grasses, plants and trees to consider. When you want to xeriscape on a budget or on a hill there really is something for everybody. After working through the principles above be sure to read through our list of xeriscaping ideas.
Artificial grass is a great way to incorporate a natural looking, low-maintenance lawn without all the negative affects on the environment. In addition to keeping colour in your yard and providing a usable space for kids and pets to play, you will spend almost no time at all maintaining it. An excellent option is to remove your natural lawn and replace it with a reduced size artificial grass lawn. The surrounding area can be accented with drought-resistant plants and ornamental rock or bark mulch for an attractive look that looks great all year long!
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