Xeriscaping can be a beautiful way to create a yard that will conserve water, be budget-friendly, and also inviting. There is an abundance of water-friendly plants to choose for any zone you might live in.
Whether you want to save money on your water bill or you want to help conserve water for environmental reasons, xeriscaping can help. Xeriscaping is the practice of planting plants and landscaping (often natives) in a way that conserves water.
You may think of xeriscaped yards like the ones you find in Arizona that are all rocks and cactus, but there is more to it. While a xeriscaped yard needs little to no watering the results can be inviting and beautiful. It is possible to get rid of your in-ground sprinkler and still enjoy a beautifully landscaped yard.
Know Your Zone
Across the country, different climates are assigned different landscaping and gardening zones. They’re called “hardiness zones” or “temperate zones.” Most zone maps divide the country into ten or eleven zones.
I currently live outside of Austin Texas in garden zone 8b. This zone is known for temperate winters and hot, dry summers. In fact, we have our spring planting in the fall because the heat will be too intense for most cool weather crops by March and April.
Kansas, on the other hand, is primarily a zone five and a zone six. Florida is a zone eight, nine, and ten. Knowing your zone is important because it then helps you choose the right water-conserving plants for your specific climate. You can access the USDA interactive hardiness zone map here. This map gives you the average frost dates for your area.
Another map you’ll need is the American Horticulture Society (AHS) heat map. This map helps to measure the heat tolerance of our plants. Think of it this way. A plant this is bread to grow in the northern states (and will do wonderful there during moderate summer temperatures) will not do so well in the South when the temps and humidity are high for months on end. So the AHS heat zones track heat patterns, while USDA Zones track cold hardiness.
Smart Plant Choices: Native Grasses and Plants Conserve Water
Now that you’ve identified the cold and heat zones where you live, you are ready to find the best water-saving plants for your area. Initially, you might want to look into native grasses. These plants will be hardier for your geographical region and may not need as much water or soil conditioning.
Some super water-wise plants to consider are:
- trees and shrubs (once established)
- annual poppies
- bearded iris
- roses (once established)
- ornamental grasses
There are many additional plants that are beautiful and native to your area. Simply find the native plant society for the region where you live. They will be happy to provide information. They will also recommend local nurseries that sell native plants and water-saving plants.
Setting up the Site for Success
You’ll want to make sure that the site you choose for xeriscaping is free of obstructions, such as trees with wide root systems and building foundations.
Initially, prepare the ground by tilling the soil to a depth of 6 inches and then spread a two-inch layer of organic matter such as shredded pine bark, rice hulls, compost or manure on the turned surface. Re-till the soil and mixture then rake the area to a smooth bed. That will give your new plants a solid foundation and soil that is ready to accept – and hold – water.
Mulch and Reduce Evaporation
One of the best ways to keep water in the ground rather than let it evaporate is to place a three-inch-thick layer of mulch around your plants. A fabric weed barrier and several inches of mulch will keep water in your soil and weeds at bay.
Use pine bark, wood chips, or compost to reduce water evaporation and suppress weeds. If using soaker hoses, cover them with the mulch material. Then replenish the layer each year as organic matter decomposes.
Even your outdoor potted plants will benefit from a layer of mulch.
Hand Watering is Smart
It is smart to learn to water the old-fashioned way. While it may seem cost-effective to have your sprinklers on an automated system that tuns on timers, this is in fact, the least effective way to water your garden. We’ve all seen sprinklers hard at work right after heavy rain or instead watering the sidewalk instead of the lawn. Automation requires your constant attention and monitoring.
In addition, watering bans are a fact of modern life and cheating on a ban makes you liable for large fines. If you live in an HOA, there may be limits to the kind of daily watering you can do.
Watering is best done in the early morning before the sun gets too hot. Contrary to what you might think, watering in the evening encourages mildew, rust and other diseases that are common when plants are exposed to too much humidity. Although you might lose a bit of water to evaporation, you’ll win the battle against plant disease.
I get up early in the summer and water my garden by hand. This gives me the time to look at individual plants and see how they are doing. To evaluate if there are any pest problems and to water only at the plant roots. This is the most efficient way of watering.
Watering wisely is a hands-on activity that helps you to realize the value of the commodity you are using. Conserving water in your garden saves money and even encourages your plants to be healthy.
Composting to Improve Soil
Finally, consider composting. Each spring you can add last year’s compost to your soil. Pull back the mulch and integrate the compost into your soil. It gives your plants the nutrients they need to thrive. Plus, you’re making another contribution to the environment by keeping compostable waste out of landfills.
Hand watering, smart plant choices, and composting are all ways that you can conserve water in the garden. Use these tips for conserving water in your garden.