GardeningXeriscaping: the wave of the future

Published on Thu, Jun 3, 2004 by . Durbin Wean

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Xeriscaping: the wave of the future

By B. Durbin Wean

It is the beginning of the week again, a gorgeous warm and rainless spring day. Though we love this weather, I am sure you are as concerned about the drought conditions as I am. What are we personally going to do about it? Why don’t you try a form of gardening called ‘xeriscaping.’

Gardeners in California, the desert and high plains already practice xeriscaping. The word “xeri,” derived from the Greek word “xeros” for dry and scape, meaning a kind of view or scene.

For our area, I am using the word to describe landscaping using slow-growing drought-tolerant plants to conserve water. Often, most available plants are native to the area and, once established, very little maintenance and water are needed. That’s good because we have some of the most beautiful native plants anywhere, such as the lovely vine maple. I will give you book titles and websites to investigate plants to your heart’s content at the end of the article.

Xeriscapes do not have a single look. You can develop almost any landscaping style so don’t despair if you think that you cannot have the cottage garden you have always wanted. Just find the right plants for your garden.

Here are some of the principles of xeriscaping. Plan and design for drought tolerant plants and trees if you are starting from scratch with your landscaping. Hire a designer if that seems a good thing to do. If you already have a garden and want to make a transition, start by retrofitting your yard. Make sure all the plants that you add use the same water requirements and start replacing high water need plants with less thirsty plants.

Keep rock and gravel areas to a minimum, as they tend to increase air and soil temperature. Use weed barrier fabrics and cover with mulch, wood chips and chunk bark. They help retain moisture and hold weeds in check. Look for lawn areas that are not doing well under heavy shade trees or structures. Replace the turf with alternative ground covers that tolerate shade and then mulch them.

All plants will need regular watering until they are established and that includes drought tolerant plants. Usually trees will take two years to become truly established. As plants establish themselves, gradually reduce watering frequency.

One important consideration is to water thoroughly; frequent shallow watering promotes shallow roots and defeats the purpose of xeriscaping. If you are planning a vegetable garden be sure to mulch the beds. Use a drip system to water. Lay down straw between the paths as it cools the soil and helps prevent water loss.
Soil preparation is very important. All soil in the northwest can be amended by adding compost. This helps clay to break up and sand to hold nutrients and water so don’t skimp on this part. You can call local soil suppliers for fertilized mulch or compost.

Other benefits of xeriscaping include less maintenance, reduced need for chemical supplements, improved property values, pollution free and increased wildlife habitat.

Other tips: install windbreaks to keep soil from becoming dried out, avoid watering during the hottest time of the day, water in the morning. Use more mature plants, they need less water.

Here are some resources - “Plants of the Northwest” by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, available at and tons of information on the internet by entering, “xeriscaping in Washington state” on the search bar of your homepage.

Good luck with your search and get started. You don’t want to get caught in a water shortage and not have made proper preparation.