Xeriscape Design Explained

As a landscape designer in San Diego County, one of my greatest concerns when approaching a new project is water usage. We live in a desert region and have experienced years of drought. As the population of our state continues to grow, our limited water resources will become more and more strained.

One of the ways we can cut back on water usage is with Xeriscape designs.

Xeriscape is a landscape design method that focuses on reducing water usage. This can be accomplished by planting climate-friendly, water-efficient plants, updating to more efficient irrigation methods,  putting down water-trapping mulch and more.

Xeriscape is a very high priority for me. I believe in planting for the existing environment, not in spite of it. It is painful to see some homeowners and institutions who insist on creating lush, water-gulping gardens that need constant care in order to survive a harsh environment, especially when there are plenty of beautiful, healthy plants that can thrive with much less water.

Fortunately, many homeowners are beginning to make water conservation a priority. For these homeowners, low water landscaping can provide a beautiful result, cut back significantly on water usage and save water costs each month. Along with proper selection and placement of plants, xeriscapes can also significantly reduce maintenance expense.

There is no singular strategy behind creating a xeriscape design. Rather, there are many different tactics that can be applied depending on the homeowner’s goal, design tastes and the specific features of their yard.

Here are some common xeriscape tactics:

  • Drought-Resistant Plants: Use climate-friendly plants  –  California natives or plants from other Mediterranean climates.  There is an incredible array of plants that thrive in Southern California’s dry environment.
  • Soil-Plant Balance: Soil has a lot of do with water capture and retention. In a xeriscape, we use plants that match the characteristics of the soil.  In some cases it’s advisable to improve the soil characteristics.
  • Mulch:  Mulch allows water to percolate into the soil beneath, shades the soil and helps keep plant roots moist and cool; it improves soil structure for better nutrient and water retention. Mulch can be made from wood chips, plant grindings, gravel, rocks and many other substances, making it a versatile material that can complement different landscape designs.
  • Efficient Irrigation: There are a variety of irrigation methods that can improve water utility. Personally, I recommend drip irrigation, a process where water is fed directly to each plant rather than sprayed across a wide area. Other water-saving irrigation methods include adjusting sprinklers each season or installing rain sensors that shut down sprinklers during or after rain. There are also automated irrigation controllers available that tap into state-wide climate data and calculate the necessary amount of irrigation water.
  • Plant-Zone Balance: Every yard includes zones where the sun and shade differ throughout the day. As a designer, I like to map out these different “hydrozones” and recommend plants that prefer those specific environments. For instance, I would recommend sun-loving drought-tolerant plants for areas of the yard that get a lot of sun and heat during the day.

All-in-all, xeriscaping is an important part of what I do as a landscape designer. It feels good to put together gardens and yard designs that honor Southern California’s dry environment and help protect our precious water resources.

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