Xeriscaping in Southwest Low Water Gardens
By Pamela Cole Harris
As more of the country is affected by climate changes that are bringing drought conditions, interest in low water gardening, or xeriscaping, is growing (this concept is also perfect for us that cannot remember to water!)
Experts recommend that new gardeners ease into xeriscaping by learning first about their soil type, its acidity or alkalinity (typical of the southwest), their annual rainfall, how well their garden drains , and what plants grow best in their soil.
Once you find the right plants for your area, xeriscaping can be easy. But as new gardeners, we can all make mistakes, The number one mistake is to assume new transplants don’t need much water. Typically water should penetrate the soil several inches deeper than the roots at planting time. Grouping plants with differing watering needs in the same flower bed or irrigation zone which makes it impossible to water them properly is also a mistake.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking all xeriscape gardens are low maintenance. Although mulching, drip irrigation systems and the proper choice of plants can create a garden which requires only infrequent care, your garden can be make as complicated as you have time for. It can be formal or casual, structured or random, but in whichever design style you want, grouping plants with similar watering needs can ensure a successful garden.
Not all water used in your garden need come from your home’s normal water supply. Collected rainwater, often called “found water” or “harvested water” can be used to supplement your water supply. Directing the water which runs off your roof during a rain storm to your most needy plants can greatly reduce the water you need – greatly reducing your water bill. It can be collected in a barrel or commercial water collection system.
Using mulch is another important aspect of a xeriscape garden. Mulch is a material which covers the surface of your garden for protection or improvement of the soil. Leaves, pine needles, wood chips, and other organic material can be used as mulch, but mulch can be inorganic as well. Gravel, stones and black plastic can also be used. Although impermeable mulch can be used in areas which might need to be kept dry, covering your garden with permeable, porous mulch reduces weeds, reduces water loss through evaporation and maintains an even soil temperature winter and summer.