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Landscaping to Conserve Water

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Certain landscapes create harmony, pleasure and serenity. Some are high maintenance while others are functional, efficient, and water saving. "Xeriscaping," a term created from the Greek root "xeros" (for "dry") and "scape" (for "vista"), is a method of landscaping, which helps create, harmonious yet water efficient landscapes. The basic principles of Xeriscaping involve seven simple steps, which may assist gardeners in creating water-conserving landscapes. Both new and established landscapes can benefit from xeriscaping, which focuses on:

  • Effective Design - It is important to plant "the right plant in the right place" and to group plants with similar needs together. Examine and assess planting areas as to: hardiness zone, slope (degree of steepness), exposure, (hot/sunny, cool/shady,) soil type, (heavy soil, sandy soil, etc), good drainage, poor drainage, etc., and plan and plant accordingly. Also consider the maintenance of the designed landscape as to whether it will require frequent mowing, fertilizers, pesticide application, pruning, etc. High frequency watering translates into high maintenance, potential high cost and overuse of a limited resource.
  • Soil Improvement - In some planting areas, the addition of soil amendments such as compost, rotted leaves or manure, etc. may improve soil structure and increase the water holding capacity of the soil.
  • Turf Areas - Use of drought tolerant grasses will aid in water conservation. Also, avoid narrow, isolated strips of turf. Not only is maintenance more costly but watering may be difficult, sometimes wasteful. Maintaining a lush, green lawn during a drought, usually means frequent watering. To conserve water during drought, allow turf to go dormant. If dormant turf is unacceptable, turf could be reduced to particular areas of importance.
  • Expanded Use of Mulches - Organic mulches reduce water evaporation from the soil, suppress weeds that may compete with desirable plants for available moisture, and moderate soil temperature. Mulch should be placed over the root zones of plants and never mounded or placed against the stems or trunks. In some instances, mulched planting beds planted with drought tolerant plants may be a desirable replacement for turf areas.
  • Efficient Irrigation - In many cases, well-planned sprinkler systems can save water. For efficient water use, plan to irrigate turf areas separately from other plantings. Also landscape plantings should be grouped according to similar water needs. Turf areas are best watered with sprinklers. Trees, shrubs, garden flowers, and ground covers can be watered efficiently with low volume drip, spray, or bubbler emitters. Regular adjustment of irrigation systems will save water and money. Make sure the irrigation system is designed to fit the needs of the landscape, the water needs of the plants and zoned to reduce unnecessary applications of water. Automatic irrigation systems have the potential to waste water and should be adjusted according to soil moisture and plant need.
  • Appropriate Maintenance - Regular maintenance (weeding, pruning, etc.) preserves the intended beauty of a landscape and may save water. Proper planting and appropriate and timely maintenance will help ensure the health and longevity of plants.
  • Selection of Low-Water Demand Plants - Evaluating the landscape and choosing plants that usually have lower water needs and also have fewer insect and disease problems can result in an attractive landscape that conserves water, reduces labor and pesticide usage, and produces an interesting and attractive landscape. When selecting drought tolerant plants for a landscape, it is important to remember that plants do need water to become established . The following is a partial list of plants, that once established, are drought tolerant.
TREES
  • Acer buergerianum - Trident Maple
  • Abies concolor - White Fir
  • Acer campestre - Hedge Maple
  • Cedrus atlantica - Atlas Cedar
  • Cornus kousa - Kousa Dogwood
  • Cotinus obovatus - American Smoke Tree
  • Gleditsia triacanthos - Honey locust
  • Ilex opaca - American Holly
  • Juniperus virginiana - Eastern Redcedar
  • Magnolia acuminata - Cucumbertree Magnolia
  • Malus sp. - Crabapple (Choose disease resistant cultivars)
  • Picea sp. - Spruce
  • Pinus sp. - Pine
  • Quercus sp. - Oak
  • Thuja occidentalis - American Arborvitae
  • Ulmus parvifolia - Lacebark Elm
SHRUBS
  • Aesculus parviflora - Bottlebrush Buckeye
  • Chaenomeles speciosa - Japanese Quince
  • Clethra alnifolia - Sweet Pepperbush
  • Cornus mas - Cornelian cherry
  • Forsythia sp. - Forsythia
  • Fothergilla major - Large Fothergilla
  • Ilex x meserveae - Meserve Holly
  • Ilex pedunculosa - Longstalk Holly
  • Kolkwitzia amabilis - Beauty Bush
  • Myrica pensylvanica - Northern Bayberry
  • Philadelphus coronarius - Mock orange
  • Physocarpus opulifolius - Common Ninebark
  • Potentilla fruticosa - Bush Cinquefoil
  • Prunus maritima - Beach plum
  • Rhus sp. - ornamental Sumacs
  • Rosa virginiana - Virginia Rose
  • Spirea sp.
PERENNIALS
  • Achillea sp - Yarrow
  • Aster divaricatus - White Wood Aster
  • Artemisia sp. - Wormwood
  • Baptisia australis - False Indigo
  • Coreopsis verticillata - Threadleaf Coreopsis
  • Dianthus sp. - Pinks; Carnations
  • Epimedium sp. - Barrenwort
  • Eryngium sp. - Sea Holly
  • Euphorbia sp. - Spurge
  • Helleborus sp. - Hellebore
  • Hemerocallis sp. - Daylily
  • Hosta sp. - Hosta
  • Lavandula sp. - Lavender
  • Liatris sp. - Gayfeather
  • Phlox sp. - Phlox
  • Rudbeckia sp. - Black eyed Susan
  • Sedum sp. - Sedum
  • Sempervivum sp. - Hens and Chicks
  • Yucca filamentosa - Adam's Needle
ORNAMENTAL GRASSES
  • Andropogon gerardii - Big Bluestem
  • Calamagrostis x acutiflora - Feather Reed Grass
  • Carex 'Evergold' - Sedge
  • Chasmanthium latifolium - Northern Sea Oats
  • Eragrastis spectabilis - Purple Love Grass
  • Panicum virgatum - Switch Grass
  • Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem
ANNUALS
  • Amaranthus caudatus - Tassel-flower
  • Arctotis stoechadifolia - African daisy
  • Begonia semperflorens - Wax Begonia
  • Calendula officinallis - Pot Marigold
  • Centaurea cyanus - Bachelor's Button
  • Cleome hasselerana - Spider Flower
  • Eschscholzia californica - California poppy
  • Gazania - Gazania
  • Pelargonium hortorum - Geranium
  • Petunia x hybrida - Petunia
  • Phormium - New Zealand Flax
  • Portulaca - Moss Rose
  • Salvia sp - Salvia
  • Senecio cineraria - Dusty Miller
  • Verbena sp. - Verbena

Written by: Deborah Swanson
Revised: 09/2011

Topics: 
Commercial Horticulture
Commercial Horticulture topics: 
Plant Materials