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3 Key Steps to Creating the Perfect Xeriscape

 
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Xeri. Comes from the Greek “xeros”, meaning dry

Scape. A scene; a view

Xeriscaping, the practice of landscape design with slow-growing, drought tolerant plants, conserves water, reduces debris and waste, reduces the need for fertilizers and requires very little maintenance. So why doesn’t everyone do it? In today’s modern era of high-tech irrigation systems and progressive fertilizers, landscapes are able to depend on large amounts of water, high levels of maintenance, and growth-stimulating fertilizers. But some of the Southeast's recent drought conditions have created an urgency to take a step back and incorporate landscapes that adapt to drought tolerant conditions. It’s not only adaptive to our environmental conditions, it can also look beautiful when it’s done properly. Below are three important steps on the best way to start your xeriscape!

DSC 4070Designing Properly

The most important factor in xeriscaping is to have the right plant material in place. Whether you’re putting together a new landscape or giving an old landscape a facelift, a proper design is vital in making sure your landscape will look amazing while conserving resources. Here are some great steps for designing your xeriscape:

-Look at what’s currently growing in the location your looking to xeriscape. Existing vegetation gives you a hint as to the types of plant material that will grow well.

-Think of your new xeriscape as a set of three different zones; a high water-use zone, a moderate water-use zone, and a low water-use zone. A high water-use zone should be very small (no more than 10% of the area) in a high visibility area. This zone should be watered as needed. A moderate water-use zone is larger (30% of the area) and is only watered when plant material seems stressed or wilted. A low water-use zone (60% of the area) would only include plant material that needs to be initially watered in. This type of design is efficient, practical, and easily maintained.

It’s all about the Soil

This is the not-so-fun part of your xeriscaping endeavor. Get your soil tested. We know, we know; it’s kind of like asking you to floss your teeth, but we’re telling you, it’s vital in making sure you’re putting the right plants in the right place. By knowing your soil’s strengths and weaknesses, you’ll know exactly what kind of amendments may be needed for healthy growth. Always make sure to slope beds away from buildings; it’s also best to plant drought-tolerant plants at the higher part of the slope, and plants that need a lot of water at low elevations, or the bottom of the slope.

Picking the Right Plants

Good plant choices for your xeriscape can be derived from the native landscape, but remember, just because it’s native doesn’t mean it will adapt well to your local environment or microclimate. Choose plants that will adapt to the environment you’ve created. Also choose plants that have slower growth rates, that will mature with the rest of your landscape, that have textures and colors that compliment the surrounding area, and of course, pick functional plants. Below are some great plant choices, depending on your micro-climate, to make your xeriscape beautiful, efficient, functional and low maintenance:

jasmineCreeping Gardenia, Indian Hawthorne, Southern Indian Azalea, Camellia, Cleyera, Trident Maple, Red Maple, Live Oak, Climbing FigConfederate, Jasmine, Creeping Juniper, Pampas Grass, Abelia, Semi-Japanese Boxwood, Impatiens, Sweet Alyssum

These 3 steps are just a start to learning the art of xeriscaping. If you’re looking to learn more about great plants to use when xeriscaping, learn about how to create awesome xeriscape designs, or want to become a xeriscaping expert, a great resource is Xeriscape, A Guide to Developing a Water-Wise Landscape from the University of Georgia’s (UGA) College of Agricultural Environmental Sciences. Another great source is Make Every Drop Count—Seven Steps to a Water-Wise Landscape from UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

This xeriscape guide was created using Xeriscape, A Guide to Developing a Water-Wise Landscape, Cooperative Extension, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Make Every Drop Count—Seven Steps to a Water-Wise Landscape.

Comments

Nice article Dave, with some excellent suggestions, especially the one about planting drought tolerant plants at the top of a slope— thirsty plants at the bottom. After 5 years in a private dunefield landscape, growth around the bottom of the rear dune slope, though still high and sandy, has been phenomenal with zero irrigation.  
 
Ultimately, there is no plant that can flourish in a drought better than one native to the spot it is planted in (as opposed to native to somewhere in Florida). While that knowledge has been scant and scattered in the past, the pending arrival of a retiring green generation has awakened the sleeping giant and much work is being done now to rectify the situation. On the new FANN website, there is a copy of John Davis's 1967 Florida plant communities map and a search function to find the plants native to each and source them.  
 
Then, for counties from Charlotte southward there is the excellent Institute for Regional Conservation site, Natives In Your Neighborhood with separate listings for each habitat in each Zip Code and all pertinent characteristics for each plant.  
 
In central Florida there will be a two-hour workshop covering all aspects from theory to design to sourcing and installation of native landscaping on Saturday May 19 at the Florida Native Plant Society State Conference in the Trinkle Center in Plant City. The workshop will be from 1:30-3:30pm. It will be open to the public not registered at the Conference for $25 at the door.  
 
Finally there is a new website under construction at PERFECT ENVIRONS that has an interactive version of the Davis 1967 map. Users can zoom to their landscape site, click on the map, and get an info box with the climate zone and plant community it is in plus a link to a list of the plants native to that site along with links to the above mentioned sites and to photos of the plants on Shirley Denton's wonderful nature photography website. Development is still in progress at the moment, but the map is usually online and functional if you want to get a peek at the future. 
 
A new twist on that site is its promotion of the idea that all environmental considerations are automatic fringe benefits of each and every plant native to the spot it is planted in, and there's the bonus on top that native landscapes look like where they are. Instead of being a mini-EPCOT, your landscape becomes a mini-NationalPark!
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 10:10 AM by Michael Clendenin Miller
Thank you David for this resource, dealing with low water plants is not easy task. What kind of mulch or soil amendment would you recommend?
Posted @ Wednesday, April 11, 2012 3:28 PM by Francisco J Serrano
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