Xeriscaping provides Texas-tough landscapes

Xeriscaping, zeroscaping, smartscaping… whatever you call it, drought-tolerant landscaping is catching on in Texas.

Water conservation is becoming more widely accepted in Texas and with it many Texans are turning to xeriscaping as an alternative to landscapes that require regular watering.

The practice of xeriscaping varies from state to state and region to region. It’s centered on using plants and grasses that are native to the area. Over time, native plants have grown and adapted to survive in the local climate. As a result, these drought tolerant landscapes require less watering and are more likely to survive both the flooding of spring and drought of summer that is normal for a Texas climate.

Sure, xeriscaping is a good idea. But who wants to replace their lovely flowerbeds with cacti and rocks? This is a common misconception. Your home can be surrounded by lush and beautiful plants, bushes and trees all native to your area.

The trick to a successful xeriscaped garden is to do it right and plan it out, which happens to be the first of seven basic xeriscaping principles. Planning will take a little time since the type of native plant you choose for an area will be very specific. Is the area normally wet or dry? Is it in full or part sun or shade? Do you want low growing or large plants?

Once you have your landscape layouts, you can move on to the second principle – soil improvements. Most native plants don’t need very rich soil, so loosening up the dirt may be enough for them. But if you find you have a very shallow amount of top soil sitting on red clay or rock, you may need to amend your soil to allow enough for plants to produce deep roots.

The third principle, efficient irrigation, can benefit anyone with a lawn. You can save up to 50 percent on your water bill by watering efficiently.

Drip or soaker hoses work very well by slowly watering plants beneath the ground. This method directly targets the roots and prevents runoff and evaporation, which can be a problem with above-ground irrigation methods.

If you do use above-ground sprinklers, be sure to have them come on in the early morning hours. Watering at night following a hot day leads to evaporation or overwatered plant roots that allow them to begin to rot. Also make sure that all of the water is falling on the ground rather than on the pavement.

Plant zoning is the fourth principle and meshes with the first one. You should arrange your plants with similar water and sunlight needs together in an area that accommodates their needs. For example, those that need a lot of water should be placed in low-lying areas where water can be collected easily. Grouping plants will save you time and money when it comes to watering.

Mulching, the fifth principle, has a multitude of benefits for gardens. Aside from the visual appeal of it, mulch keeps the roots cool and healthy. Mulch also reduces evaporation and weeds, which are both water wasters.

Another essential principle is turf alternatives and limits. With xeriscaping, turf areas should be kept to a minimum, usually just in areas that accommodate children and pets. More water-efficient plants or patios can be put in place of areas where turf is not needed. In turf areas, it is best to use drought-resistant grasses.

As with any landscape, it is important to properly maintain your xeriscaped garden. Lawn maintenance, the final principle, will ensure that your landscape continues to grow and thrive with a limited amount of water. Weeding, limited pruning, fertilizing and aerating will all be beneficial to creating a beautiful landscape while saving water and money.

If you would like to create a beautiful landscape with little need for mowing, upkeep and water, consider making the transition to a xeriscaped landscape. A little research will save water and money.

To find a listing of plants native to your area of the Brazos River basin, try the online version of SmartScape, an interactive xeriscaping tool. Designed for those living in North Central and West Texas, the Smartscape site is sponsored by the North Texas Council of Governments.

In Southeast Texas, you may find information on xeriscaping at WaterSmart at http://www.watersmart.cc/default.asp.