In the past, helping plants survive drought meant turning on the sprinkler day after scorching day. But now there’s a more water efficient way of gardening that saves on water and on time called xeriscaping. First developed in water-strapped parts of the western United States, it’s a method of gardening that homeowners everywhere are beginning to adopt as a fuss-free, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional techniques.
The goal of xeriscaping is to build a sustainable garden that helps plants survive dry periods on their own, without heavy reliance on supplemental watering, fertilizer and other maintenance tasks. Here are the key elements that make a xeriscape garden both successful and beautiful:
1. Get to the root
Shallow-rooted plants are dependent on the gardener for much of their food and water, which is applied to the soil surface. But plants with deep roots are able to find their own sources of nutrients and moisture buried deep in the ground. There are two important ways to help plants develop long roots: add organic matter deep into the soil, which helps the plant retain moisture and adds nutrients; and water for lengthy periods rather than shorter ones so the water can penetrate well into the ground.
2. Conserve water
To help keep moisture in the ground where plants need it, apply mulch, such as chopped leaves or pea gravel, to the soil surface to prevent water evaporation from drying sun and winds. When watering becomes necessary, use a drip irrigation system, such as a soaker hose, to deliver water to the base of the plants where it’s needed. Avoid overhead sprinklers, which can lose as much as one-third of their moisture to evaporation.
3. Start them off right
Although plants suitable for xeriscape gardens are self-sufficient once they’re established, most need some care at first. To ensure their survival, before planting, fill the hole with water and allow it to drain. After planting, water again until the ground is unable to absorb any moisture, but not so much that water pools on the surface. For the first few months after planting, water plants deeply at least once a week.
4. Pick the right plants
Some plants have adapted to dry conditions better than others. These generally include plants with long tap roots that can find buried sources of water; succulents that store moisture in their leaves; and still others with silvery foliage to reflect sunlight, a waxy coating to lock in moisture, or woolly leaves that help conserve moisture.