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Just what is xeriscape?

JoAnne Skelly

A reader recently asked “Because water cost so much now, my family would like to xeriscape our front yard. Could you do some articles about this?” Since this is a great idea and fall is the perfect time to change out or plant a landscape, here are the seven concepts of xeriscaping.

“Xeri” means dry in Greek. Dry-scaping is a good description of xeriscape. With water a precious resource in an arid environment and now with increased costs, doing a water-efficient landscape makes great sense. Step 1 is to have a plan. Capture your property on paper noting the house, buildings, fences, walkways, trees, patios, boulders and other features that are staying. Note areas of sun or shade because it is important to group plants with similar water needs. Then note areas for kids’ or pets’ play, entertaining, gardening, vehicle storage and so on.

Step 2 is soil improvement. For water use efficiency, soil should hold water, but drain so roots don’t rot. Add compost to planting areas to improve the soil. Step 3 is about the plants. Choose drought-resistant plants adapted to our area. Select plants for their ultimate size. For hot, dry areas, use plants that need a minimum of water. Most importantly, don’t mix plants with high- and low-watering needs in the same planting area. I will write an article on water-efficient plants.



Step 4 is to limit turf. Lawns serve many functions including play areas, weed and dust control, cooling and aesthetics, so most people do want a lawn. However, there are grass species that use less water. Proper soil preparation is important for turf areas to be water-conserving. There are also lawn alternatives. I will talk about these in a future article.

Mulch is the key to Step 5. Soil that is exposed to the sun and wind dries out more readily than soil covered with mulch. Put mulch, such as leaves, coarse compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark or even gravel around plants to conserve moisture. Organic mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil. To be effective, mulch needs to be several inches thick.



One of the most important components of a xeriscape is irrigation, Step 6. Use low pressure water systems that apply water directly to the plant, such as drip irrigation and soaker hoses. These reduce moisture loss from evaporation. They deliver the water at a slow rate, which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. It’s best to water deeply and less frequently. Since water conservation is the goal, avoid overwatering.

Step 7 is maintenance and that’s another article entirely. With a water-efficient landscape you can have beauty and save money.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu or 887-2252.