Xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. This means xeriscaped landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides.
Xeriscaping has been embraced in dry regions of the western United States. Prolonged droughts have led water to be regarded as a limited and expensive resource. Denver, Colorado, was one of the first urban areas to support xeriscaping. That citys water department encouraged residents to use less of the city’s drinkable water for their lawns and gardens.
Xeriscaping has become widely popular in some areas because of its environmental and financial benefits. The most important environmental aspect of xeriscaping is choosing vegetation that is appropriate for the climate. Vegetation that thrives with little added irrigation is called drought-tolerant vegetation. Xeriscaping often means replacing grassy lawns with soil, rocks, mulch, and drought-tolerant native plant species. Trees such as myrtles and flowers such as daffodils are drought-tolerant plants.
Plants that have especially adapted to arid climates are called xerophytes. In desert areas like Phoenix, Arizona, xeriscaping allows gardeners to plant native xerophytes such as ocotillo.
Supporters of xeriscaping say it can reduce water use by 50 or 75 percent. This saves water and money. In Novato, California, residents were offered conservation incentives (reductions in their water bills) to convert from traditional lawns to xeriscaping. The citys water department estimated that the houses that chose xeriscaping saved 120 gallons of water a day.
Another main component of xeriscaping is installing efficient irrigation methods. Drips and soaker hoses direct water directly to the base of the plant and prevent the water evaporation that sprinklers allow. More efficient irrigation is also achieved when types of plants with similar water needs are grouped together. A xeriscaped landscape needs less maintenance than an area landscaped with grass and water-intensive plants.
The most common example of a xeriscape-friendly plant is the cactus, which has hundreds of different species that are native to North and South America. Cacti have evolved many physical adaptations that conserve water. For example, their prickly spines, the cactus version of leaves, protect the plants from water-seeking animals. Their large, round stems have thickened to store large amounts of water. Their waxy skin reduces water lost to evaporation.
Cacti are far from the only plants appropriate for xeriscaping. Other drought-resistant plants include agave, juniper, and lavender. Many herbs and spices are used in xeriscaping, such as thyme, sage, and oregano. Some plants used for food are drought-resistant, such as black walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes, and sapodilla, a sweet fruit native to Mexico.
The saguaro is a cactus that has become a familiar icon of Western movies. They dominate the desert landscapes of Arizona and northern Mexico, and can grow as tall as 15 meters (49 feet). As frightening as the saguaro can be because of their sharp spines, there are many bird and mammal species that call them home. The gila woodpecker and gilded flicker are two bird species that are good at carving out nesting sites in the saguaros. When these birds abandon the nests, other species, such as the elf owl or cactus wren, often take them over.
For this and similar articles, please visit National Geographic