Xeriscape Design, Gardens And Plants
In Texas our most precious natural resource is not oil or natural gas, it is WATER. In the coming years and decades this will be become the prevailing view of both city and state leaders. It is an inevitability.
The age of vast expanses of green lawns is coming to an end as the climate changes and the aquifers are stressed. Future landscapes will be designed around the principle of saving water. This is where Xeriscaping steps in.
Here is the Austin area we have a bounty of native plants that require little water and maintenance, yet supply colorful blooms and fragrances most of the year round. It is the choice and placement of these specific plants that lie at the foundation of Xeriscaping, and we all know that to build anything well, you need a solid foundation.
The word “Xeriscape” comes from an amalgamation of the Greek work for dry (Xeros) and landscape, but don’t let that fool you into summoning images of rocks and cactus. In essence, Xeriscaping is not merely a style or category of landscape design (Formal, English, Cottage, or Japanese, for example), or just about saving water. It is an all-encompassing idea that places the landscape in harmony with the site, wherever that may be.
There are seven principles on which Xeriscaping is based:
- Planning and design
- Soil analysis
- Practical turf areas
- Appropriate plant selection
- Efficient irrigation
- Use of mulches
- Appropriate maintenance
The planning stage is a very important part of the process. It is when the designer and homeowner get to listen to each other and come up with a Xeriscape that suits the area to be landscaped and incorporates the wishes of the owner as much as possible. At Xeriscape Austin we pride ourselves at not only being able to listen to the client’s ideas, but our imagination and inventiveness to overcome any conceptual hurdles.
Adding organic matter to the proposed flower beds is a must. It is part of the solid foundation we talked about earlier. A truly happy plant is going to bloom more and grow quicker, so never skimp on good soil! Soil analysis is a useful tool to employ if you need to know for sure, but the addition of quality soil in the new bed areas – and old bed areas – is paramount. The advantages to this are numerous, but most importantly you are giving the plants the nutrients they require for good health and increasing the tilth of the planting area allowing ease of root growth.
Saying goodbye to the whole lawn is tough. We all love to look out the window and see that swath of green. But then we look at the water bill! Why not keep a small lawn area? Something that would be easier to maintain and keep green through the dreadful heat of the Texas summers. Consider replacing the water-hungry grasses like St Augustine with a more drought tolerant choice such as Bermuda, Buffalo or Zoysia. A general rule of thumb in Xeriscaping is to eliminate 50% of the existing lawn, but that figure is always dependent upon the wishes of the homeowner and the design of the new landscape and how it will all fit together. Remember, it’s not always about flower beds – lawn areas can be replaced with decks, patios, and softened with pathways and other hardscape features.
When people initially think of Xeriscaping they might imagine choice of plant material being diminished drastically. This is not true. The choice of appropriate plants for Austin and the surrounding area is vast. There are a few online resources that can help in this regard.
- US Dept of Agriculture
- The Native Plant Society of Texas
- A&M Agricultural Extension Office
- City of Austin Waterwise project
As is discussed in the Drip System page on this website, the importance of an efficient irrigation system is a key part of the Xeriscaping concept. Having drip instead of pop-up or rotor systems to irrigate beds has several advantages. As plants grow, pop-up and rotor spray tend to get blocked by the foliage and the plants behind don’t get the water they need to be healthy. This leads many to keep raising and raising the heads until they are three or four feet above ground and spraying over the top of the plant material – exactly what they plants don’t want. They need to have water delivered to the roots, and this is what drip irrigation does. Not only are you using a lot less water, but it is being delivered beneath a thick layer of mulch and so it doesn’t evaporate before being absorbed by the soil.
Mulch has two main purposes in the landscape: to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. It also helps to keep weeds and unwanted volunteers at bay. A covering of at least 3-4” is required for best effect and, in addition, it will make the flower bed look great!
Many people mistake Xeriscaping for “Zero” scaping. There is always maintenance to be performed on a garden, but in a Xeriscape it is kept to a minimum. We recommend that once a year – normally in the latter part of winter – the dead gets pruned from the beds and a top-up layer of mulch is added. This will keep the landscape looking great and healthy.
Another benefit Xeriscaping has for the environment is a drastically reduced need for fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Our streams and rivers are polluted by runoff from landscapes that use toxic chemicals. In a Xeriscape the plants are in good soil to start with topped off with a good layer of mulch that gets added to each year. The mulch breaks down over time into compost which replenishes the soil with nutrients so you never have to fertilize again. You have created your own little ecosystem! Pesticides are used on plants that are weak and therefore diseased. They are weak either because they are stressed due to poor soil quality, or stressed because they don’t belong in Texas. In a Xeriscape the plants are healthier and, much like our own bodies, if you are healthy you fight off infection naturally.