Fred Jaicks  Written and compiled by Fred Jaicks.

Xeriscaping (pronounced zerah-skaypeeng) is a trademarked, water conserving gardening program that began in the United States in the early 1980s during a drought. The program has spread to forty states where it is being embraced for its water conservation planning and tactics. Its popularity increases every year for several reasons. One major factor contributing to its growth is that it saves money on water costs. Another is that it also saves the gardener something equally valuable: time and effort.

Much like building a house on a firm foundation, planning and design should be the first tools used for the new xeriscape. Begin with a simple scale drawing of the property. Be sure to show how it is oriented to the sun, and also add all structures, trees and plants on the property. Then place a sheet of tracing paper over the drawing. On this sheet, sketch in any views that should be shielded, drainage problem corrections and the existing features that are to remain in place.

Once the plans are set in stone, it is time to take the project outside. Soil preparation and analysis is the first step outdoors. Finding out what type of soil is available on the property will help determine which plants can be chosen. Do not add organic matter to planting holes, but if the soil structure is very poor, there are certain procedures that can be done to improve it. For example, sand can be added to clay or drainage pipes can be used for areas with standing water, etc.

Plant selection is crucial to the success of xeriscaping. The purpose of landscaping is to create appeal and interest for a building. Just because xeriscaping is water-wise gardening, it does not suggest that the plant materials need to be dull or common. Choose plants that will be appropriate for the area it will fill when grown. Choices should be made from plants with natural shapes that appeal to the homeowner, which do not require additional pruning and shaping. Be sure to space the plants appropriately to reduce their upkeep. If you wish, accompany the plants with a nice umbrella.

Practical turf areas are good for homes and business landscapes because grassy spots reduce erosion and recharge the ground water. As long as the gardener is content with brown grass during the drought season, the turf will bounce back and they will be rewarded with a green patch when the rain returns.

Irrigation is still necessary in the xeriscape, although it will not need to be considered as significantly or as frequently. When the landscape is first installed, regular watering is required until the plants are established. After that, water requirements decrease dramatically. Alternative methods to sprinklers should be used, such as drip irrigation and hand watering. In addition to irrigation, mulching is one of the most beneficial tasks a gardener can do for their soil. A thick layer of mulch keeps the moisture level in the soil at a constant level and keeps a crust from forming around the plant so water can reach the roots easily. Mulch also keeps weeds at bay.

It is an understatement to declare that maintenance in a xeriscape is minimal compared to the traditional landscape. However, there are still some points to consider while keeping up the xeriscape. The first is to make sure to use a slow release fertilizer. Another is to remember to thin shrubs rather than shearing them. Finally, it is imperative to aerate the turf grass to improve irrigation.

Xeriscaping not only reduces the amount of water needed to keep the landscape beautiful, but since native plants are used, they are used to the soil available to them, so fertilizer use is also reduced. While the benefits can be seen even if only two of the steps are utilized, more of the steps implemented equals greater benefits.

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