Golf Engineering Associates Technical Help - Public Education Series

Xeriscape Design Tips

The most obvious benefits of Xeriscape is that it saves water and is very low impact on the environment. Many people call Xeriscape "Natures Choice of Landscape". This page discusses the seven basic principles of Xeriscape.

typical Xeriscape 1. Careful Planning and Design:

Like any other landscape project, good planning and design will ensure that the finished job is up to your expectations.  Some of the more important aspects of Xeriscape design include:

  • Views to protect or screen plantings.
  • Orientation of the Sun; protection of buildings from excessive heat.
  • Interaction of plants with typical non-living elements: rock, gravel, plaster, tile, etc.
  • Use analysis:  making very hot or dry areas bearable for outdoor enjoyment.
  • Pure "desert" look or the "Mediterranean" look: what is right for your area?


Xeriscape limits turf areas2. Strategic Placement and Minimization of Turf
It's not necessary to eliminate all turf for the typical Xeriscape. Hey, we desert dwellers like to twinkle our toes in the green stuff too. A lawn provides recreation area and a certain cooling effect (mostly psychological) to any landscape, especially in the desert. The trick with Xeriscape is to avoid large expanses of turf which require MUCH more water than the rest of your landscape plants. In the Northern parts of the U.S., "wall to wall" turf lawns are the real focal point of the entire yard; the backdrop upon which everything else seems to be placed against. In the typical Xeriscape turf becomes another element of the landscape, as a large tree or special planting would. In Xeriscaping, lawn areas are placed strategically to achieve the desired effect and utility, not as an overall blanket for the property.

drip emitters3. Efficient, well planned irrigation systems:

Irrigation is drip emitter tubing very important to a successful Xeriscape. The installer should have a good understanding of drip irrigation methods before starting the job. One of the most important aspects is to keep your zones separated into water use categories. You do not want to water arid zone trees as much as the grass; cacti may get as little as one watering per month. Each category of plant life should be separated into low, medium and high water use zones; the high water use of course being any turf areas. Seasonal adjustments of the watering schedule are necessary to achieve the desired growth and water savings. 


4. Soil Improvements:

Improving the soil allows for better absorption of water. By improving the water holding capacity of the soil, you prevent wasteful runoff and drainage. Soils that contain peat moss, compost or other organic matter also provide extra nutrients to plants. Loosening hard-packed soil by rototiller or the good-old-fashioned pick and shovel will allow the roots of your plants to penetrate more easily. Aeration is as important in Xeriscape as it is anywhere else. Consider taking a soil sample to your local extension service or agricultural agent for analysis and recommendations for proper soil amendments.

5. Use of mulches, gravel, decomposed granite and rock:

Xeriscape uses rock and gravelMulch, gravel, granite and rock are the materials that will take the place of a grass lawn in the typical Xeriscape. Notice anything about these materials? That's right, they do not require any water.....only minimal upkeep such as occasional weeding and raking. Mulches cover the soil and prevent evaporation, and many hard-pack materials such as decomposed granite are effective at keeping weeds down. By varying colors and textures, the typical Xeriscape can become much more artistic and interesting than a solid featureless green lawn.

6. Utilization of low water use plants:

desert willowThis does not mean that you have to plant cactus and yucca all over your property. There are hundreds of commonly used trees, shrubs, vines, flowers and groundcovers which can be considered "low water use". The "desert" plants of Xeriscape certainly are for use in the harsh climate of the Southwest, including the entire cactus family, but the "Mediterranean" style of Xeriscape includes such plants as colorful Bougainvillea, palm trees, Honeysuckle and Aloe. Mix and match any low water use plants to create Xeriscape, and by researching plant availability in your area it should not be hard to come up with an extensive plant palette.Colorful, low maintenance wild flowers are also a staple of Xeriscaping.

7. Regular maintenance of plants and irrigation system:

One of the best things about Xeriscape is the distinct decrease in the amount of maintenance you will have to perform. Less water means less mowing, less fertilizer, less weeds, less insects, less disease, less everything. Arid zone plants, in general, will survive and grow fine on very little water. If they are watered more often, they will grow larger and faster. Therefore, it is possible to establish many arid zone plants quickly with ample watering, then taper off the watering to lower the maintenance burden as plants age. It is especially important to program your irrigation timer correctly for every season of the year to achieve the greatest water economy.


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