This week we've been focussing on National Water Week and how we as gardeners can use water wisely and sparingly. One of the ways in which we can conserve water is to not have to use it in the garden at all! How is this possible? Simple design - xeriscaping.
Originally developed for drought-afflicted areas, the principles of xeriscaping today has gained a broader scope of interest, and have become widely popular in some areas due to the numerous financial and environmental benefits it provides.
What is Xeriscaping?
Xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. Xeriscape landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides and often involves replacing grassy lawns with soil, mulch, rocks, and drought-tolerant native plants.
By applying xeriscape principles, water usage in the garden is significantly reduced. Xeriscape landscapes also require minimal maintenance and create a familiar habitat for local wildlife.
Principles of Xeriscaping
The aim of xeriscaping is to reduce the amount of applied water and maximise the use of natural precipitation. One of the ways in which this can be accomplished is by installing efficient irrigation methods. Sprinklers can be replaced with drips or soaker hoses to prevent water loss via evaporation. Drips also direct water to the base of the plant and deliver water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it is best to water plants deeply and less frequently.
The ideal soil for a water-conserving landscape is soil that drains quickly and stores water, simultaneously. You can achieve this by adding organic material to the soil and by keeping it well aerated.
Limit your lawn
Reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible. If you plant new turf or seed existing lawns be sure to source water-saving species adapted to your area.
Select appropriate plants
Use plants native to your region as they are adapted to the local climate and consequently require less human-supplied water.
Select drought-resistant plants. These plants generally have leaves that are small, thick, glossy, silver-grey in colour, or fuzzy - all characteristics which help them prevent water-loss.
To reduce pruning maintenance, select plants for their ultimate size.
Group plants with similar watering needs together and avoid mixing with plants high- and low-watering needs in the same planting area.
Mulching prevents erosion, helps retain soil moisture and temperature, and prevent competing weeds from germinating. Cover the soil surface around plants with a mulch such as leaves, pine needles for acidic-lovers, straw, wood chips, vine clippings or bark. Mulch needs to be several centimetres thick for it to be effective and ensure that there are no areas or bare soil for best results.
Maintain the landscape
Fortunately, low maintenance is one of the benefits of xeriscaping. Keeping the weeds from growing up through the mulch may require some attention. If you do have turf areas, do not cut it too short as taller grass shades the roots and helps to retain soil moisture.