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Xeriscape Landscaping
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Xeriscape (pronounced zeer-i-scape) landscaping is an environmental design of residential and parkland using various methods for minimizing the need for water use. As the population grows in the Southwest the demand for high quality potable water has also grown. Unfortunately, the Southwest being an area prone to drought has led to water use restrictions. This especially true for landscaping in areas of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. According to the US Department of Agriculture up to 25% of potable water is being used for landscaping and gardening. Xeriscape landscaping is a comprehensive water conservation practice that incorporates seven principles:

  1. Planning and Design - If you are landscaping a new yard for your new home, ask you contractor to incorporate xeriscape landscaping. If you’re working with an existing yard and landscape, draw a sketch of your yard including the positions of existing structures, shrubs, trees, flowerbeds and grass areas. Now you can decide on appearance, maintenance, function and water requirements. Contact a local landscape architect and designer, nurserymen and/or your county farm extension agent and ask them to help in the decision-making. They can assist you in deciding what plants to get and their placement in the landscape. Once you have the plan you can decide if you want to do it all at once or implement a few changes each year.
  2. Soil Analysis - You need to determine the PH and alkaline content of your soil. This can be done with a do-it-yourself kit available at nurseries and garden stores. Or, ask your count farm extension agent if they will do it or provide you with a free testing kit. You can then apply the proper materials to the soil for healthy plants. Most of the soils in this part of the US are sandy and lacking in nutrients. By adding organic matter (compost) to the soils you’ll increase plant health and conserve water. The organic material increases the soil's ability to absorb and store water for the plants. Mix in from 4 to 6 inches of organic material into your soil. You can obtain organic materials from your garden center or start your own compost bed, a topic for discussion at another time. Trees and large grassy areas the addition of organic materials is not needed.
  3. Plant Selection - Select trees, shrubs and groundcovers based on their adaptability to your region's soil and climate. The Southwest has an abundance of native plants that are naturally adapted to the region and quite attractive. Most of the native plants have low water demands, fewer insect problems and less fertilizer needs than those plants brought into region over the past few decades. The nursery and gardening industry has shown great support of xeriscape landscaping by making available a wide variety of native plants. If you combine native plants with some adapted exotic plants gives you a beautiful landscape.
  4. Planned Turfgrass Areas - Turfgrass areas should be part of the overall landscape plan using drought-resistant varieties. The area should be designed for efficient use of underground watering systems. Don’t plant odd-shaped areas or long and narrow areas that are difficult for the sprinklers to efficiently cover.
  5. Moisture Saving Mulch - Use mulch wherever it is possible. Place mulch in flowerbeds, around the base of trees and shrubs. Mulches conserve water by stopping the moisture from evaporating out of the soil. Mulch also inhibits weed growth, prevents soil compaction and helps to moderate the soil temperature. Mulch is generally made from organic materials like cypress, cedar or pine bark, compost and woodchips. There are inorganic materials that also act to prevent moisture evaporation. Lava rock, limestone or weed barrier plastic that allows the water through to the soil but doesn’t allow it to evaporate rapidly.
  6. Efficient Irrigation - Having your irrigation system designed and installed by a professional contractor will provide efficient irrigation. Improperly designed and/or installed systems can waste water, provide insufficient water where needed and cost more over the life of the system.
  7. Landscape Maintenance - Proper maintenance preserves the beauty of the Xeriscape landscape and saves water. Pruning shrubs and trees, removal of weeds, proper fertilization, insect control and proper irrigation system maintenance all help in conserving water.

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Article by Hal Major

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