Xeriscaping: A Water-Saving Landscaping Technique

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Lawn & Garden

The Four Principles of Xeriscaping: Soil, Water, Mulch, Maintenance

When plants receive less water, their roots may weaken and lose their grip on the soil.
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Improving the Soil

Preparing the soil is an essential aspect of any Xeriscaping project. The right soil type can keep plants cool, retain moisture, and prevent water from evaporating. There are three types of soil: sand, silt, and clay. While most soil is a blend of all three, silt is the best for Xeriscaped gardens. Sand allows too much drainage, and clay retains water for too long.

Watering Techniques

Knowing how much water a plant needs is crucial. Some plants can rely on rainfall during droughts, but many require regular watering. During the initial establishment phase, plants may need as much water as in a conventional landscape. Monitoring the plants can help determine the amount of water they require. Thirsty plants shrink their roots to search for moisture, which can weaken their foundation. A plant that appears to be unstable in the soil may need more water. Irrigation systems should keep water low to the ground to minimize evaporation. Drip, micro-spray, and bubbler systems are ideal for flower beds and shrubs.


Mulch is vital to Xeriscaping because it helps reduce evaporation and keep roots cool. Two types of mulch are available: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch is made of wood, such as bark, cedar, and pine peelings. Although it needs to be replaced regularly, it helps keep the landscape cool and adds color. Inorganic mulch is made of stones, such as cobblestone or lava rock. Stones do not require replacement but are best used in shaded areas to avoid heat absorption from the sun.

Pioneer Park in St. Petersburg, Fla. A well-maintained Xeriscaped landscape can look just as beautiful as a traditional lawn.
Peter Essick/Aurora/Getty Images

Maintenance Tips

Once everything is planned, prepared, and planted, the final step is maintaining the landscape. Xeriscaping makes this easier, as it requires less water and has slow-growing foliage. Regular plant grooming is recommended, including removing dead branches or leaves to promote growth and ensuring that roots are strong.

For more information on gardening, plants, and water, visit the next page.

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More Great Links

  • Xeriscape Colorado


  • Interviews with Mark Nelson and Darrel McCook of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, conducted on March 31, 2008
  • O’Brien, Bart. “Xeriscaping: sources of new native ornamental plants.” Progress in new crops. Arlington, Va.: ASHA Press, 1996. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1996/V3-536.html
  • Wade, Gary et al. “Xeriscape: a guide to developing a water-wise landscape.” Colleges of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Family and Consumer Sciences: University of Georgia. March 2008. http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/B1073.htm
  • “Water supply and use in the United States.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Jan. 25, 2008. http://www.epa.gov/watersense/pubs/supply.htm
  • “What is Xeriscape?” Colorado WaterWise Council. 2005. http://www.xeriscape.org/whatis.html
  • “Xeriscape principles.” Denver Water. http://www.denverwater.org/cons_xeriscape/xeriscape/xeriscapeprinciples.html
  • “Xeriscaping: a water-conserving alternative for attractive exterior space planning.” ToolBase Services. 2008. http://www.toolbase.org/TechInventory/TechDetails.aspx?ContentDetailI D=929


1. What is xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping is a landscaping technique that involves using plants that require minimal water. This technique is particularly useful in areas that experience drought or have limited water resources. The plants used in xeriscaping are chosen for their ability to thrive in arid conditions, and the landscaping design is typically focused on conserving water.

2. What are the benefits of xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping offers numerous benefits, including reduced water usage, lower maintenance costs, and increased biodiversity. By using plants that require minimal water, xeriscaping can help conserve water resources. Additionally, because xeriscaping requires less maintenance, it can save property owners money on landscaping costs. Finally, by using a variety of native plants, xeriscaping can increase biodiversity and support local ecosystems.

3. What types of plants are typically used in xeriscaping?

There are many different types of plants that can be used in xeriscaping, including cacti, succulents, and other plants that are adapted to arid conditions. Native plants are often preferred, as they are well-suited to the local climate and require minimal maintenance. Additionally, many xeriscaping designs incorporate edible plants such as herbs and fruit trees.

4. How can I design a xeriscaped garden?

Designing a xeriscaped garden involves careful planning and consideration of factors such as soil type, sun exposure, and water availability. It is important to choose plants that are well-suited to the local climate and that require minimal water. Additionally, incorporating features such as mulch and drip irrigation can help conserve water and reduce maintenance requirements. Consulting with a professional landscaper or horticulturist can be helpful in designing a xeriscaped garden.

5. Do xeriscaped gardens require any special maintenance?

Xeriscaped gardens typically require less maintenance than traditional gardens, as the plants used are adapted to arid conditions and require minimal water. However, some maintenance is still required, such as pruning and occasional watering during periods of drought. Additionally, it is important to monitor the garden for weeds and pests and to remove any invasive species that may threaten the local ecosystem.

6. Can xeriscaping be used in any climate?

Xeriscaping is most commonly used in arid or semi-arid climates, but it can be adapted to other climates as well. In cooler climates, for example, xeriscaping can be used to create low-maintenance gardens that require minimal watering. However, the specific plants and design elements used in xeriscaping may vary depending on the local climate.

7. Is xeriscaping environmentally friendly?

Yes, xeriscaping is considered to be an environmentally friendly landscaping technique. By conserving water and using plants that require minimal maintenance, xeriscaping can help reduce the environmental impact of landscaping. Additionally, by using native plants, xeriscaping can support local ecosystems and promote biodiversity.

8. How does xeriscaping compare to traditional landscaping?

Xeriscaping offers several advantages over traditional landscaping techniques. It requires less water and maintenance, which can save property owners money and reduce environmental impact. Additionally, xeriscaped gardens can be designed to support local ecosystems and promote biodiversity. However, traditional landscaping techniques may be more appropriate in areas with ample water resources or in certain aesthetic contexts.

9. Can xeriscaping be incorporated into existing landscaping?

Yes, xeriscaping can be incorporated into existing landscaping. This may involve replacing some or all of the existing plants with drought-tolerant species, or it may involve adding features such as mulch and drip irrigation to reduce water usage. Consulting with a professional landscaper or horticulturist can be helpful in determining the best way to incorporate xeriscaping into existing landscaping.

10. Are there any disadvantages to xeriscaping?

While xeriscaping offers numerous advantages, there are some potential drawbacks to consider. Xeriscaped gardens may not have the same lush aesthetic appeal as traditional gardens, which may be a consideration for some property owners. Additionally, designing and implementing a xeriscaping plan can require a significant upfront investment. However, the long-term benefits of xeriscaping, such as reduced water usage and lower maintenance costs, may outweigh these drawbacks.

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