Dry landscaping, called xeriscape, does not have to consist of rock and cactus only. Instead, xeriscape landscaping can be a creative, beautiful solution to reduce your yard's need for supplemental irrigation water to close to zero. Like all good landscaping, xeriscape incorporates color, fragrance and variety.
Landscape designed for dry climates and low water consumption begins with a plan. If possible, draw with tracing paper over a site map of your property. View its characteristics: drainage, slopes, views, privacy, prevailing weather and sun movement patterns. Consider your intended use of each section: storage area or shed, RV parking, trash storage, pet areas. You will not want thorny cactus close to work or pet areas.
Xeriscape often focuses on dividing land into water use zones . Higher water use may be close to the house in areas people occupy, such as patios. Moderate and low water-use areas would be more distant. In this way, water use is held to a minimum and plants receive the water that most precisely meets their requirements.
In dry landscaping, rocks are not everything, but they do have a preeminent role. Decorative rock can be used to fill in flat areas near plants. Gravel or pea gravel can be used to form walkways. River rock can be used to border walkways and to create the look of stream beds on sloping ground.
A rock garden is ideal for a xeriscape design. Your rock garden can be an outcropping of rocks where you plant and nurture low-growing perennial and annual flowers, bulbs and shrubs. For the most natural look, choose rocks of similar shape but varying size. On a sloping site, you can arrange large rocks at the slope bottom. By arranging smaller rocks above the large ones, you create an impression of a cascade effect. To hold rocks in place, bury the broad side well into the soil so only the top half of the rock is exposed.
Both native and non-native plants can fit well into a dry landscape as long as they are drought tolerant. Naturally, plants that are native to your region are the best choice, provided they are adapted to your specific property and site. The important issue is to match your plants with your micro-climate. Wind, rain, sun and drainage will affect what will grow with the absolute least amount of irrigation.
Mulched soils reduce evaporation and maintain a cooler temperature than soils without mulch which lowers the ambient air temperature near plants. Organic mulches such as bark chips, shredded leaves or compost increase plant nutrients and improve the soil, but they need to be refreshed and replaced. Inorganic mulches including rocks and gravel do not add nutrients to plants or soil, but they help retain natural rainfall and cool the area surrounding plants.
Weed cloth is what dry landscape gardeners use as barrier between soil and rock, right up to the base of plants. Weed cloth permits moisture to penetrate without pooling.
Xeriscape need not be and seldom is completely dry landscaping. A drip irrigation system, which can be purchased at garden centers, can be set up with any number of drip lines and sprinklers. Some dry landscape plants including cactus, many succulents, grasses, shrubs and trees need little or no irrigation. However, during periods of drought, supplementing their water can ensure their longevity.
- Photo Credit desert landscape image by Paolo Frangiolli from Fotolia.com
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