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What is Xeriscape?

Updated On: December 18, 2010

A registered trademark of the National Xeriscape Council, the term xeriscape may be defined as horticulture that emphasizes water conservation. Derived from the Greek word xeros, which means dry, xeriscape uses specific landscape design elements and management practices to achieve the goal of water conservation. Xeriscape may also encompass other goals, such as creating habitat, using native plants, responding to the local environment and using inspiration and materials from the regional landscape. Xeriscape does not preclude using high-water-use plant materials as design elements, but it limits their use in concert with the water conservation objective and stresses their relationship to the overall design.

Xeriscape makes good economic and ecological sense, considering California's limited water supply. About 25 to 30 percent of the water consumed in urban areas of the state is used for landscape irrigation. A property designed and installed xeriscape can reduce net energy consumption by providing shade in summer and allowing the sun to warm dwellings in winter. If properly executed, xeriscapes can be less costly but just as beautiful as traditional landscapes. Xeriscapes follow ten common principles:

  • Group plants according to their requirements for sun and water, for example, ferns with baby's tears and rockrose with rosemary.
  • Zone irrigation systems to match plant requirements. for example, shrubs may need water only once per week. Flowers may require water once per day. Separate irrigation lines can be programmed to meet differences in frequency and duration.
  • Adjust irrigation frequency and/or duration at least four times a year. Water-use rates in the landscape vary greatly from season to season. During winter months, no irrigation may be needed. many landscape areas are over irrigated, which encourages weed and disease problems, in addition to wasting water.
  • Design irrigation systems to emphasize uniformity, especially on turf areas. The delivery system is appropriate for the type of plant material being irrigated, with drip irrigation a practical alternative in many situations.
  • Use turf for function more than appearance. Other plant materials can substitute for turf where frequent foot traffic or play does not occur. If properly selected and managed, turf can be a water-thrifty plant material. Warm-season grasses are preferred in warmer areas of the state because they offer as much as 50 percent water savings during the growing season over cool-season grasses. However, many home owners in Southern California still choose cool-season grasses because they remain green year-round.
  • Use island of intensely managed and irrigated plantings for accent. A tasteful grouping of plants can make a strong statement with much less water than rambling shrubs or turf.
  • Use plants in climatic conditions to which they are well adapted. Mediterranean climate plants are suited to much of California. California natives may be used, but not all of them are drought tolerant. Xeriscape is not limited to natives, and plants requiring high moisture or humidity can be used in suitable micro-environments.
  • Include hardscape, design, elements, such as patios and decks, in the landscape design. They enhance the outdoor environment, require no water, and can provide additional color through the use of container plants
  • A good xeriscape is economical. Monthly water bills reflect the water savings that can result when water use is reduced. Appropriate xeriscape materials are available in the trade at no greater cost than plants that demand more water. Fewer pest problems may occur when plants adapted to the site are grown. Precise application of water limits weed growth and plant diseases. A good xeriscape combines function and beauty. Crushed gravel from the street to the front door is not California xeriscape. Variations in plant and landscape color, texture, and form are part of a professional xeriscape design.