Design for Water Conservation and Conditions

In xeriscape gardening, the focus or emphasis is on gardening with water conservation in mind. To maximize the efficient use of water, consider and implement as many of these features as possible into your landscape.

  • Installing above ground sprinkler systems, drip systems (above ground, under mulch or soil) and water catchment systems need to be worked into your design plan. Before digging, consult with utility companies for the location of underground utilities to avoid severing them. Drip systems both above and below ground or mulch are the most water efficient. A xeric landscape can use more than one type of irrigation system. Amend soil before installing irrigation.
  • Choose plants that will grow naturally in whatever soil or conditions you have. This is just a suggestion, for the really low maintenance and low water-use gardeners.
  • For everyone else, amend the soil for better drainage and organic content, according to the type of plants you choose to plant. Plants grown in soil teaming with beneficial microorganisms require less water.
  • If water supplies are critical, space plants further apart, mulching in between. Remember, each plant requires a set amount of water for survival. Packing more plants into a given space requires more water than spreading, or spacing out individual plants.
  • Mounds or berms in lawns (for visual interest) require more water than lawns on a flat area; avoid lawn berms and mounds.
  • Use a lower water-use turf, such as buffalograss, rather than bluegrass, fescue or bermudagrass. Buffalograss requires only 25-50% the amount of water as bluegrass/fescue.
  • A general suggestion is to limit high water-use plants to 1/3 of your landscaped area (lawns and vegetable gardens). Create patios, sitting areas, paths and walkways over 1/3 of your landscaped area, and the final third in medium and low water-use shrub and flower beds.
  • Narrow strips, such as the hellstrip – that area between the sidewalk and street—are more suited to low water-use plants. Concrete and asphalt reflect a great deal of heat and dries out the soil quicker. Likewise, areas to be landscaped next to brick, metal and concrete structures and any areas 10 feet wide or less are more difficult to irrigate efficiently.
  • Don’t mix plants of dissimilar water needs. Low water use trees and shrubs within the same hydro-zone as fescue and bluegrass turf cause problems for one or the other.
  • Plant your favorite high water-use plants in containers. Less square footage for high water-use areas.
  • For an added low water-use landscape and lower maintenance, plant drought tolerant plants in containers. Xeric plants that are not cold hardy for our area are an excellent choice for container gardening.

More water conservation tips are listed in the section of Efficient Use of Water.

How Proper Design Overcomes Extreme Conditions

Right plant in the right location is a good maxim to follow. By following basic gardening principles, the success and beauty of your landscape is enhanced.

  • Site oriented gardening expands the plant palette by effectively using micro niches to extend the USDA Cold Hardiness range and, conversely, citing plants in cooler areas of the landscape to better cope with summer’s heat.
  • Site oriented gardening emphasizes using the right plant for the existing soil condition with minimal amending.
  • Site oriented gardening places plants to protect them from wind.
  • Site oriented gardening places plants that can take the heat in the sun, and others in the varying amounts of sunlight and shade.
  • Site oriented gardening places plants in hydro-zones and locates the hydro-zones in the best micro niches of the landscape to maximize efficient use of water. 

Suggested Reading

  • Ann Lovejoy’s Organic Garden Design School, Ann Lovejoy, Rodale Organic Gardening Books, 2001
  • Natural by Design: Beauty and Balance in Southwest gardens, Judith Phillips, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995
  • Gardening With Prairie Plants, Sally Wasowski, University of Minnesota Press, 1995
  • Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates, Lauren Springer and Rob Proctor, Fulcrum Publishing, 2000

Angie Hanna