Procedure, Analysis, and Recommendation
By: Amanda Klimchuk
-- Table Of Contents --
Drought-Proof Landscaping: Seven Steps To A Water-Conserving Xeriscape
(includes recommended drought-tolerant plants for an Alberta xeriscape)
Water is becoming an increasingly limited resource, and its conservation has become more important than ever. Research has shown that more than 50 percent of household water use goes toward landscaping. Xeriscaping is a method of creative landscaping that involves strategic placing of plants that are native, well-adapted, and appropriate for the natural climate. The result is the plant’s water requirements can be met largely, if not completely, by natural precipitation.
Principles of xeriscaping include: planning and design, soil improvement, limiting turf areas, appropriate plant selection, mulching, and maintenance. Advantages include saving water, time, money, and most important, less environmental impact. A xeriscaped yard will use less than half the water a traditional landscape would require and, once established, needs less time and maintenance.
Xeriscaping is sometimes confused with zero-scaping, which is a completely different approach to landscaping. Both methods reduce water consumption, but zero-scaping uses mostly rock (which can increase the ambient temperature around your house and yard), junipers and cactus. Xeriscaping provides a more lush and interesting landscape, without all the heat, and can be customized to your tastes.
The savings can vary depending on your location, size of your lot, and the extent of xeriscaping principles used in your design. Some comparisons have shown a 30-80% reduction in water consumption, the typical reduction for a garden is about 70%.
Costs for implementing a xeriscape range from about $1.50 - $2.50 (AMD) per square foot. When comparing these costs to those associated with a traditional garden (which include fertilizer, water, lawnmower, and maintence), you can expect annual savings of $0.36 (AMD) per square foot. You’ll also be saving time and labour.
In terms of volumetric savings, a 1,000 square foot lawn requires 132,500 liters of water each year. More drought tolerant plants would only require about 56,780 liters for the same amount of space. One study looked into a standard Kentucky Bluegrass lawn with trees and shrubs and found that it required 79 liters per square foot and the xeriscaped version of the yard only required 13 liters per square foot.
The average payback occurs within 4 to 7 years.
The list of benefits to xeriscaping extends from your pocketbook to the environment, and includes:
- Water savings. As mentioned above, a xeriscape can use 70% less water because the design will make full use of rainfall. Also, the improvements you make to the soil helps its ability to retain water. Half of residential water in most of North America is used for lawns and landscape; a xeriscaped yard could cut that number significantly.
- Less maintenance from mowing, fertilizing, weed, disease, and pest control means you’re going to save a lot of time. The maintenance required in a xeriscaped yard may include some pruning and weeding (but even this time can be cut down by including more mulching since it reduces weed growth).
- You will save a great deal of money from cuts in water usage, fertilizers, mowers, seed, and labour. There are also less obvious savings, for instance your wastewater charges should be lower because they’re based on total water usage. You’ll also see lower energy bills because plants are placed strategically around the home to help keep it cool in the summer, and maximize the sun in the winter.
- A more peaceful neighborhood with cleaner air since mower, weed trimmer, and leaf blower engines contribute to air and noise pollution. Small turf areas can be maintained with a reel mower.
- Save energy. A traditional lawn cuts cooling costs up to 4%, and a xeriscape landscape with tree and shrub cover can cut cooling costs up to 46%, compared to a landscape with no vegetation cover. Since you no longer need your mower and trimmer, you will also save gasoline and electricity.
- Environmental benefits because there is less or even no need for fertilizers and pesticides. Runoff water will contain fewer chemicals and therefore create less water pollution. Local birds and wildlife will benefit because plants and trees that are native to the area will provide a more familiar natural habitat. We will also see less grass clippings in landfills.
- You will be increasing local awareness about xeriscapes. Neighbors will see that your yard resists drought, pests, disease, and requires less time and money to maintain. This may help others to learn more about the benefits and consider implementing a xeriscape in their yard.
- Xeriscaping will raise your property value, which ultimately offsets the cost of installation.
A xeriscape still requires some work. Other downsides include:
- Start-up costs and labour involved in preparing the land, like killing and removing the old lawn.
- You’re limited when it comes to plant selection.
- People new to the area have to learn about the local climate patterns and native plant species.
- Periodic maintenance is required; weeds may be more of a problem than you’re used to.
Principles and Implementation:
The first step is choosing an appropriate design. Do a little research to find out what plant species are native to your area and available locally. Climate conditions and the conditions around your yard (zones with high afternoon sun, morning sun, afternoon shade, etc) should be monitored to help plants thrive. Draw out a fully detailed map of your yard and fill in features like walkways and fences, and the conditions you observed like sunlight, wind exposure, natural contours, and drainage patterns. Determine the primary function of specific areas of your yard including play areas and dining and seating areas. Also decide if you want to keep certain views private or protected so you know where visual barriers should be placed. Find appropriate places for larger plants like trees and shrubs to help provide natural cooling and heating opportunities. Finally, determine the amount of time you’re willing to put into maintaining your xeriscape and your plan for installation (which can be done in phases to space out costs).
Another necessary step is analyzing soils from different areas of the yard to determine which areas may need improvement. Peat and compost help the soil keep water and encourage plant growth. Taking samples for soil pH will also be beneficial in determining which improvements are necessary.
In terms of plant selection, it is best to choose native and drought tolerant plants. They generally have small, thick, glossy, silvery, or fuzzy leaves, which help them to save water. You need to consider mature size, as well as light, water and temperature requirements. Keep the drought resistant plants toward the hot, dry areas of the yard like those facing the west and south. Place trees strategically so they can block wind and shade the soil to help reduce evaporation. A healthy xeriscape can be colorful and lush, but depends entirely on the proper placement of plants.
To irrigate most efficiently, plants must be grouped together based on water need, called hydrozoning. Separate plants that depend heavily on water from the plants that require very little water. This way you can design your irrigation system most efficiently. Always water early in the morning or in the evening when it’s cooler outside. Use soaker hoses or drip-irrigation for ground cover because they deliver water at a slower rate, encouraging root absorption and reducing moisture loss from evaporation. Learn to recognize when plants need to be watered, like when they droop. Generally, try and water deeply and less frequently.
Grass requires the most irrigation, but can still be used in a xeriscaped yard. It is a hardy plant and can be placed in practical areas, like where kids play or to help prevent erosion. Since it uses a lot of water, it should be separated from other plants. Areas that aren’t used as frequently could comprise of a mulched walkway, plant bed, or ground cover as an alternative to grass cover.
Utilize mulch since it holds moisture, temperature, slows erosion, and reduces weed growth while still keeping an attractive look to your landscape. It can be used around trees, shrubs, and flower beds. The mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil, so it will need to be reapplied, and should be kept thick with no areas of bare soil.
Xeriscapes are not maintenance-free yards. You will still need to weed, mulch, irrigate, mow, and prune to maintain the landscape. Any areas with grass should not be cut too low because taller grass will shade the roots and help the ground hold moisture.
I strongly encourage the implementation of a xeriscape. The primary objective is water conservation, which is of growing concern around the globe. It is important to look for new ways to conserve and a xeriscape can meet many of those needs. They offer savings in water, energy costs, time, and most importantly, they provide a positive environmental impact. Be aware of local government rebate programs as well, which encourage water-wise landscaping. Some rebates provide $500 for removing 500 square feet of grass. Through the U.S. Green Building Council, you can earn LEED points for reducing demand for water and synthetic chemicals as well as for reducing heat island effects. Overall, the benefits from implementing a xeriscape far outweigh the costs; I believe it is a worthy investment.
Alberta Views: Drought-Proof Landscaping
Albuquerque Bernalillo County, Water Utility Authority: Xeriscape for Beauty and Conservation
Acreage Answers: Xeriscaping: A New Approach to Gardening, pg 3
City of Mesa: Reasons to Convert from Grass to Xeriscape?
Eco-Action.net, The Green Initiative: Xeriscaping
GardenLine: Xeriscape Landscaping