The word Xeriscape was coined in 1981 by an environmental planner for the Denver Water Company. Taken from the
Greek word, Xeri, meaning dry, xeriscape embodies the principles of water conservation through creative landscaping.
Do I have to have a yard filled with gravel and a few cacti?
Not in the least! Responsible xeriscape promotes the use of native plants and other water-thrifty flora adapted to our high desert conditions. With a little planning, you can have a colorful garden that offers blooms from Spring to Fall with far less maintenance than the traditional blue-grass lawn surrounded by water hungry plants. Xeriscape can look much like a traditional landscape. Early attempts at low maintenance landscapes involved gravel and cactus/yucca landscapes, and while they did tend to reduce landscape water use, they often increased electrical costs for air conditioning or water use in evaporative coolers because they increased the heat around a home.
Xeriscape is NOT dry only.
Even though dry only landscaping can be spectacularly colorful, and even lush, limited areas of highly watered landscapes are completely consistent with wise water use, if the return justifies it – for example, heavily irrigated athletic field turf. When used in the landscape, xeric plants typically need some irrigation while they re-establish their root systems. Some
of these plants will need little or no supplemental irrigation once established while others will be more attractive and
produce more flowers if irrigated modestly during the growing season. Too much irrigation will result in the early death
of the plants or allow them to become too large or invasive. Proper irrigation is important and may require a change in thinking. Properly planned xeriscapes will have planting zones requiring differing irrigation treatments. This allows for
limited areas of high water use where traditional landscape plants may be grown for the cooling effect and the color that may be added with traditional annuals and perennials. However, many of the plants adapted to the lower water areas will
also add color to the landscape throughout the year.
Xeriscape is NOT only native plants.
Not only native plants are water savers. Although there is a vast array of wonderful regional native plants, introduced plants that are well-adapted to our climate are a wonderful addition to our native flora. Iris, tulips, and roses are examples of introduced plants that are well adapted to low irrigated landscaping in this area.
Xeriscape is NOT just rocks and gravel.
Although dry (xeric) rock gardens can be truly marvelous, (check out rock gardens at Albuquerque Botanical Garden) there
are infinite other choices for the dry portions of xeriscape designs.
Xeriscape is NOT always lawn-less.
Some lawn can be consistent with the concept of overall water wise landscaping.“Less-lawn, not lawn-less” might be the right phrase. While some gardeners may choose to do away with lawns in the landscape, xeriscapes may have lawns. The lawn should be appropriate for the use. If it is to be used as a play area, cool season grasses which need more water may be appropriate. The size of the lawn should be appropriate for its function. If the primary purpose is just for looks, the gardener may choose grasses which use less fertilizer, fungicide, and mowing. It is important that the size and type of lawn grass be appropriate for the lawn's function. Grasses are not just for mowed lawns. Those who believe this forget about Pampas grass which is common. There are other ornamental grasses which use less water than Pampas grass and serve the same function in the landscape. They are available in a variety of sizes and colors. They are especially attractive for their effect in the winter landscape and their seeds attract birds. There are many ways to employ ornamental grasses in the landscape.
Xeriscape is NOT boring in design.
It can and should fit in with your architecture, neighborhood, and surrounding natural areas. It can range from Japanese to English cottage garden in style.
Xeriscapes require no maintenance.
Xeriscapes may be low maintenance landscapes if that is planned, but gardeners who like to spend time tending their garden can also design for a landscape that will provide for their favorite pastime. The key is the planning, proper installation, and management.
(Special thanks to Curtis Smith, the Denver Water Department, and Jim Knopf for permission to publish their xeriscape information)