When creating xeriscapes, the first step is to plan the landscape. Thinking it through before expending any money or labor will help avoid costly mistakes.
You can plan your own xeriscape and have it reviewed by a professional, or hire a professional landscaping company for the whole project, or do it all yourself. Regardless of the approach you take, it will help to understand the basics involved in designing xeriscapes.
Begin by drawing a diagram, to scale, of the existing landscape. Using graph paper will help. Carefully measure the house, driveway, walkways, patio or deck, fences, power poles, existing trees and any other elements that will remain for your new plan. It is a good idea to mark the location of spigots, outdoor electrical outlets and downspouts. Draw an arrow pointing north, because sun exposure will be important to your xeriscape.
Next consider what you want from your xeriscape. Do you need a place for outdoor games or for dogs to run? Do you want an attractive entrance to your home? Do you want a garden or orchard of edible plants? Is more space needed for parking? Do you want to attract wild life?
After diagramming the existing landscape and thinking about what you want from a xeriscape, but before you start digging, you need to review a few more things. Your plan should consider: the climate and microclimate, terrain, location of immovable objects, existing vegetation, and local regulations. Based on these factors, you can identify the appropriate zoning of plants by their water needs, and then choose the irrigation system and plants that are a good fit for your xeriscape.
ZONES. Xeriscapes typically identify 3 watering zones: oasis, transitional, and arid.
An oasis zone is usually next to the house, or other water source. It is a shorter walk if watering by hand using grey water. For irrigated xeriscapes, it reduces the cost of the irrigation system, which is fed by faucets near the house. This lush zone also benefits from roof line runoff and water from downspouts. The oasis zone is the area most often used for outdoor recreation and relaxation. It is the best place for delicate or demanding plants and where turf areas should be.
The arid zone is farthest from the water source and should be designed to thrive with natural moisture alone. Although new plants in the arid zone will likely need supplemental watering until their roots are established. Drought-tolerant, native plants are a good choice for the arid zone.
The transitional zone is between the arid and oasis zones. It is more appropriate for plants that need partial shade and require watering once a week or less.
Choosing plants with similar water needs and locating them in the appropriate zone, simplifies irrigation and maintenance. It also ensures that plants grow better, because they are neither over watered nor under watered, due to the water needs of neighboring vegetation.
CLIMATE. Your regional climate (defined by rainfall, temperature, wind and humidity) and microclimate (including soil moisture, light exposure and soil acidity) determine which plants will grow best in your xeriscape.
In windy areas, you may want to create a windbreak with plants. Trees can also be used to channel cooling breezes. In regions prone to wild fires, succulents could be a good choice.
TERRAIN. Your plans need to consider slopes and low-lying areas. These affect the run-off and accumulation of water. Slopes can be difficult to maintain and subject to erosion. Soil stabilizing ground cover works well on slopes. Your plans can also take advantage of water that is channeled by sloping terrain. Another alternative is to terrace sloping land.
Natural stream paths may be an area that you choose to cover with rocks to form a dry stream bed. Ravines and gullies where water accumulates also need special planting consideration.
EXISTING OBJECTS. It is important to consider the house location for the placement of shade trees. Also, plants that shade the outdoor compressor unit of an air conditioning system can help save on summer cooling costs. Plants can be used as a visual screen outside windows or to camouflage unattractive objects on the property. Power lines may affect where you place tall trees and underground utilities may restrict where you dig. Fences, walls and other structures must also be included in the plan.
EXISTING PLANTS. You may want to keep some of your favorite plants and trees that are already established. Learn about their water needs, so you can place new plants with similar water and sun requirements nearby.
LOCAL ORDINANCES. Be sure to check for community landscaping restrictions. Some cities and home owner associations have regulations that prohibit the removal of mature trees. There may be rules about what to plant and the amount of impermeable paving permitted.
IN CONCLUSION. When planning xeriscapes, remember to factor in the mature size of the plants you choose, so there is room for them to spread. Plant selection and irrigation are also important aspects of xeriscape design. They are each described in more detail on their own page.
Reading books will help you to understand the plants that will thrive in your xeriscapes. See the Xeriscapes Bookstore page for books on xeriscaping that come highly recommended.
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