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Xeriscaping for a water-wise garden design

Becoming a gardening standard in many new, upscale homes, Xeriscaping is a method of gardening that allows for easy maintenance and water wise design.

 

Xeriscaping and xeno gardening refers to landscaping and gardening in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. It is promoted in regions that do not have easily accessible, plentiful, or reliable supplies of fresh water, and is gaining acceptance in other areas as climate patterns shift.

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Xeriscaping can have many different looks - almost any landscaping style can be achieved - due to the wide variety of interesting and indigenous plants available. The features that make plants visually interesting often are the features that allow them to thrive on little water. For example, the silver leaves of lamb's-ears, lavender and gray santolina reflect the drying heat of the sun so the plant doesn't lose water from its leaves. Many xeriscaping plants also develop deep roots and can store water

Grasses are a dominant plant of the western landscape, as most varieties require minimal watering and tend to have a fine texture and make good combinations with other plants.

 

Benefits of xeriscaping

Water wise gardening with as much as 50 to 70 percent reduction in water use.

Low maintenance apart from occasional pruning and weeding.

Affordability by planting indigenous plant varieties that eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers. Sufficient nutrients are provided by healthy organic soil.

A well planned Xeriscaping can add value to a property, which more than offset the cost of installation.

Zero fossil fuel consumption from petrol or electric mowers is minimized or eliminated with minimal turf areas. Small turf areas can be maintained with a reel mower.

The use of native plants, shrubs and trees offer a familiar and varied habitat for local wildlife.

The fundamental element of Xeriscaping design is water conservation. Landscape designers constantly look for ways to reduce the amount of applied water and to maximize the use of natural precipitation.

Design

Before setting pencil to paper, familiarize yourself with the principles of Xeriscaping and take a tour of your local nurseries to see what drought-resistant plantings are available locally. Using graph paper, draw an aerial view of your property and begin your plan with the following considerations:

Orient the plot by marking down north, south, east and west. Include any limiting features such as trees, fences, walkways or structures. Note areas of sun and shade, which will help you establish zones of differing water needs. You'll want to group plants with similar watering needs for most efficient water use.

Study the natural contours and drainage patterns of the land. These contours can be easily developed into terraces, which add visual interest and help reduce soil loss and erosion due to rain or irrigation. Terraces can be as little as 10 cm and still offer visual appeal; terraces over 20 cm will require considerable support, such as rock walls or timbers reinforced with steel stakes.

Consider the planned use of each area within the plot. Areas for seating, walkways, visual barriers, dining or play should be defined and incorporated into your plan.

Areas to be left as turf should be designed to be easily mowed. Curved swaths are usually better than straight runs with sharp turns. Narrow swaths can be difficult to water with conventional sprinklers.

Larger plantings, such as shrubs and trees, can be positioned to provide natural heating and cooling opportunities for adjacent buildings.

Soil Improvement

The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape does two things simultaneously: it drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This is achieved by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil and keeping it well aerated. It may be worthwhile to have your soil tested at a garden centre or by using a home test kit.

Limited Turf

Reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible, while retaining some turf for open space, functionality and visual appeal. When planting new turf, or reseeding existing lawns, ask at your garden centre for water-saving species adapted to your area.

Use Appropriate Plants

For best results, select plants that are indigenous to your region.

Use drought-resistant plants. In general, these plants have leaves which are small, thick, glossy, silver-grey or fuzzy - all characteristics which help them save water.

Select plants for their ultimate size. This reduces pruning maintenance.

For hot, dry areas use plants which need only a minimum of water. Most importantly, don't mix plants with high- and low-watering needs in the same planting area.

Trees help to reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading the soil.

Mulch

Cover the surface around plants with a mulch, such as leaves, coarse compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark or gravel. Mulch helps retain soil moisture and temperature, prevent erosion and block out competing weeds. Organic mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil, and will need more applied, "top-dressed", from time to time. To be effective, mulch needs to be several centimetres thick. There should be no areas of bare soil.

Irrigate

Water conservation is the goal, so avoid overwatering. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering for xeriscapes because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant. This reduces moisture loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it's best to water deeply and less frequently.

Maintain your landscape

Low-maintenance is one of the benefits of xeriscaping. Keeping the weeds from growing up through the mulch may require some attention. Thickening the layer of mulch will help. Turf areas should not be cut too short - taller grass is a natural mulch which shades the roots and helps retain moisture.

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