Why Choose Xeriscaping Over a Traditional Softscape?
Before we embark on a DIY xeriscape project. Let’s look at the reasons why we may choose this over a traditional lawn.
The fact is, our current water consumption is not sustainable. We need cost-effective ways to build and maintain a beautiful landsccape that will be water and energy-efficient.
Southern California is in a Water crisis and we simply do not have the resources to sustain our current water consumption.
Although most of the world is not running out of freshwater, a number of regions such as Southern California, face chronic freshwater shortages.
In the future, water shortages are likely to spread due to increasing demands, unsustainable withdrawal rates, difficulty in finding new supplies, pollution and source water contamination, and changing climatic and precipitation patterns.
In Southern California, 33% -70% of the clean drinking water we treat each day is used to water lawns.
Our love affair with lawns has led to unrestrained water consumption. This is unsustainable, both environmentally and financially.
What is Xeriscaping
It means to landscape a garden with plants that use lesser amounts of water to help people lower their water bill and reduce maintenance. AKA- drought-tolerant landscaping, water wise landscaping and smart scaping. Xeriscaping was pioneered originally for desert regions but has spread to water abundant places thanks to conservationists. This type of smart scaping is also driven by environmentalists who advocate preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and the protection plant and animal diversity.We all love coming home to our beautiful green , manicured lawns but it’s also important and long overdue that we be fully aware of the impact beautiful gardens and lawns have on our environment.
The term “xeriscape” is derived from combining the Greek word for Dry-” xeri” with “landscape”-
“Xeriscape” became popular in the 1990′s among landscape architects, gardeners, and urban planners who wanted to reduce both water consumption and maintenance. Xeriscape is a resourceful way to beautify your property without having to rely on scarce natural resources or harming the local ecosystem with toxic fertilizers or pesticides. Installing a Xeriscape in an arid climate like Southern California can help save you money by reducing summer water bill by as much as 45-50%.
Xeriscape does NOT MEAN A CACTUS Garden with only cacti, succulents and rock. As long as you follow the basic elements of Xeriscape, you are free to create anything your imagination allows.
Basic Elements of a Xeriscape:
- Drought tolerant plants- using natives or plants that indigenous to your area is best.
- Reduction or replacement of lawns
- Efficient irrigation
- Natural materials like Flagstone, Gravel, stone, boulders
- Recycled material
Part 1: Start with a good Plan
This isn’t something that can be thrown together over a weekend. It’s important that you do your research and plan out the best xeriscape for your climate and soil type. If you spend the time to do it right the first time, your new landscape can bring you enjoyment and satisfaction – and lower water bills – for many years to come. Thinking a design through will help minimize expense, mistakes and risks while planning the building of a landscape in phases. Drawing or mapping out a landscape can help family, contractors and suppliers visualize the idea.
Many people design their own landscape plans. Some may choose to have a professional review their plan and add helpful ideas. Or, the plans may be totally prepared by a landscape architect or designer.
Sit down and make a list of all the items you want to include in your xeriscape and use the list above to guide you. Don’t worry about budget or the size of your yard, that will come later. This is the time where you gather pictures and articles and anything you have thought about or considered having for your xeriscape. Your list may look like this:
- Patio Cover for shade
- Pathway (Flagstone) from patio area to garden and firepit area
- Turf/play area- reduce existing lawn
- Plant privacy trees to screen out neighbors view
- Dog area
Plan for different spaces in your yard for different activities and try to blend hard and soft materials. You may want a hummingbird garden or outdoor BBQ in one area, or a quiet spot to sit and read in another. Choose stones and materials that compliment the style of the home. Don’t forget to add spaces for entertaining and seating for friends and family.
Part 2: Survey your site
Work with what you have. Preserving existing plants and trees can help you save the cost, materials and resources needed to establish a new planting
Measure your property and make a drawing showing your house location, property lines and dimensions, slopes, drainage flow, trees, sun exposure, existing planters, lawn areas and items such as concrete or block walls. Inventory your current plants, irrigation system, and any materials you want to keep.
After you have a complete survey of your site, you can start on the design. Start with the hardscape items on your list such as patio, seating walls and pathways. Think of it as your “outdoor house” with rooms outlined by plants or shrubs and pathways connecting and leading to each outdoor room.
Drainage is a factor to getting the most out of your hard work and giving your Xeriscape the best chance to thrive. Understanding the way water drains from your yard will help you determine the right plant for the right place. Note that the low-lying areas on your property collect water naturally.
Part 3: Lawn reduction or replacement
Our romance with grass lawns has quite a history. Look at the dates of the quotes below:
“grass mown into a softness like velvet”
-American Landscaper Andrew Jackson
“A smooth closely shaven surface of grass is by far the most essential element of beauty on the grounds of a suburban house”
-Frank J. Scott – 1870
If you’re serious about water savings, you do have to rethink your lawn. Lawn considerations are important, because traditional grass lawns use a lot of water and require regular maintenance. This doesn’t mean all grass has to be removed and replaced with gravel. A designer can take a look and take into account where grass will be useful and enhance the landscape, not take away from the other plant life.
Most homes in Southern California have both front lawns backyard lawns with borders that separate the planter areas. One easy design is to move that border towards the center. By doing this , you shrink the grass area and expand the planter borders. It’s important to note that Turf grasses have a place in xeriscape and can be used for recreational space, pets, or just for their aesthetic appeal.
There are a number of options for removing turf. One easy option is to rent a a machine called a sod-cutter which will do the job quickly. The removed sod can be rolled up and set aside where it will self-compost and can be returned to the landscape.
Part 4: Install drip Irrigation
The concept of drip irrigation systems is simple.Water efficient irrigation systems are also waste efficient. By providing water in moderation, and only to where a landscape requires moisture, excessive plant and weed growth can be avoided. Recent advances in irrigation technology allow for precise delivery of water with very little waste. Drip systems and micro-emitters have become very cost effective when evaluated against water restrictions and rising water costs. The real solid waste benefit of these systems is that water and fertilizer go toward growing the plants desired, preventing nutrient-consuming and waste-generating weed growth in other areas.
Xeriscapes, or water-efficient gardens, are earth friendly because they feature plants that thrive on less water. Perhaps the most efficient way to water the home landscape is with a properly designed and well-maintained drip irrigation system. Overall irrigation requirements will vary according to plant species, soil type, rainfall, and temperature. Established, well adapted plants require less frequent watering than newly planted trees and shrubs. A minimum length of time to operate a drip irrigation system is two to three hours; however, it may take four to six hours to thoroughly wet the root zone of an established large shrub or small tree.
Watering can be reduced after one or two years when transplanted plants are established. Less water applied to mature xeriscapes results in fewer weeds and reduced maintenance.
Reduced watering means less plant growth, and less pruning. And adapted plants generally don’t require large amounts of fertilizer.
Part 5: Plants and Shrubs
Native environmental friendly landscaping encourages the use of native plants in landscaping. These plants are uniquely adapted to grow in your area. Natives generally require little watering once established, and are naturally pest resistant, which means less use of expensive and toxic chemicals. So by using native plants we conserve water and reduce pollution while maintaining a healthy landscape. The patterns of sun and shade in your yard affect where plants will grow best. Shading by trees can also play a big part in shrinking your energy bill.
Pick plants carefully. Shrubs can be used as the walls of the garden creating smaller spaces within the larger landscape. You can use them for privacy screening to block out things such as the garbage cans on the side of your house. Incorporate shade into the design. Group plantings with similar water needs. Choose plants with different bloom times to have color throughout the year. You need to know what the mature size of any plant or tree before you plant it. Over planting wastes water and money. A majority of plants you buy should be small one gallon and the savings from that can be put to a couple of Anchor trees for that immediate gratification. One gallon plants grow and fill out quickly.