|Useful tips and resources to help you save water|
Xeriscape IS . . .common-sense, drought tolerant, QUALITY landscaping that PROTECTS the environment AND conserves water!
'Xeriscape is a method of landscaping that promotes water conservation. Rather than a specific 'look' or a limited group of plants, Xeriscape is a combination of seven basic landscaping principles.
These principles are explained below in the order a landscape planner or property owner would consider to install the best landscape. Each principle must be considered during the planning and design phase, but the sequence of installation is also very important in assuring a successful Xeriscape.
The seven principles of Xeriscape
1. Planning and Design
Trying to create a landscape without a plan is like trying to build a home without blueprints. A plan provides direction and guidance and will ensure that water-conserving techniques are coordinated and implemented in the landscape.
The first step is to look at your existing landscape and create a "base plan." This is a to-scale diagram showing the major elements of your landscape – your house, driveway, sidewalk, deck or patio, existing trees, etc.
To measure your landscape, you'll need a 50-foot or longer tape measure, and a helpful relative or friend. You will need to measure from the property lines to your house, as well as all the exterior walls of your house. You will also need to measure other impervious surfaces, such as sidewalks, decks and driveways. If there are existing trees, shrubs, etc. that you wish to keep, you'll need to measure to place them accurately in your plan.
Once you've recorded all the measurements, you'll have to transfer them to graph paper. Most designers prefer to work with plans drawn to a 1:10 or 1:8 scale. This means that every 10 (or 8) feet of actual measure equals 1 inch on your plan. So if your property is 50 feet wide by 100 feet long and you're using a 1:10 scale, your plan would be 5 inches by 10 inches.
Once you've drawn your property lines on the graph paper, you need to fill in the details, including the house outline, sidewalks, driveways, etc. You also need to show direction on your plan by drawing an arrow indicating North.
This will help your designer select plants appropriate for specific exposures. Some of the other things you should include on your base plan are:
Once you've completed a base plan of your existing landscape, you need to think about how you want to use your new Xeriscape. Examples of uses can include a place to let the dog romp; an inviting approach to your front entrance; the selection of a tree to block an unsightly view; the placement of a vegetable garden and so on.
The final step is to develop a "planting plan," indicating what types of plants should go where in your yard.
Remember, you can phase in your Xeriscape design.
Visit the Texas Smartscape Web site (www.txsmartscape.com), an interactive landscape design tool. It provides excellent "smart" landscaping information for Texas.
2. Soil Improvements
To enable your soil to better absorb water and allow for deeper roots, you may need to add a soil amendment before you plant. For most soils, adding 1 to 2 inches of organic matter such as compost or well-aged manure to your soil can be beneficial. Rototill the organic matter into the soil at least 6 inches deep.
Note: if you are landscaping with native plants, soil amendments may not be necessary, as they prefer soil that is not too rich. For many of these plants, the only soil preparation necessary is to loosen the soil.
Test your soil! Free soil test instructions for landscaping/bedding areas are online at http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/webpages/forms.html. Click on “Urban Soil.” Work in organic material to improve texture and water absorption.
3. Efficient Irrigation
A Xeriscape can be irrigated efficiently by hand, with a drip irrigation system, or with a properly designed automatic sprinkler system, or a combination of systems. If you're installing an automatic irrigation system, it's a good idea to plan this at the same time you design the landscape. Zone turf areas separately from other plantings and use the irrigation method that waters the plants in each area most efficiently. For grass, low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers irrigate best. Drip, spray or bubbler emitters are most efficient for watering trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers.
If you water by hand, avoid oscillating sprinklers and other sprinklers that throw water high in the air or put out a fine mist. The most efficient sprinklers put out big drops and keep them close to the ground.
Water deeply and infrequently to develop deep roots. The best time to water is between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. to reduce water loss due to evaporation. If you have an automatic sprinkling system, adjust your controller regularly to meet seasonal needs and weather conditions. Also, install a rain shut-off device.
4. Zoning of Plants
Different areas in your yard get different amounts of light, wind and moisture. To minimize water waste, group together plants with similar light and water requirements, and place them in an area in your yard which matches these requirements. A good rule of thumb is to put high water-use plantings in low lying drainage areas, near downspouts, or in the shade of other plants. It's also helpful to put higher water-use plants where it is easy to water.
Dry, sunny areas or areas far from a hose are great places for the many low water-use plants that grow well in our climate. Planting a variety of plants with different heights, color and textures creates interest and beauty.
By grouping your plants appropriately, you minimize water waste while ensuring that your plants will flourish in the right environment.
Mulching is essential for gardening in the Texas Midwest. Mulch helps keep plants roots cool, prevents soil from crusting, minimizes evaporation and reduces weed growth. Mulches also give beds a finished look and increase the visual appeal of your garden.
Organic mulches, such as bark chips, pole peelings or wood grindings, should be applied at least 4 inches deep. Because they decompose over time, they're an excellent choice for new beds. As plants mature and spread, they'll cover the mulched areas.
Inorganic mulches include rocks and gravel, and should be applied at least 2 inches deep. They rarely need replacement and are good in windy spots. However, they should not be placed next to the house on the sunny south or west sides, because they tend to retain and radiate heat. Mulch may be applied directly to the soil surface or placed over a landscape fabric. (Note: Do not use black plastic because it prevents air and water from reaching to the plant roots.)
Free wood-chip mulch is available for citizens’ use from the City of Abilene Recycling Center, 2209 Oak Street.
6. Turf Alternatives
One way to reduce watering requirements is to reduce the amount of turfgrass in your landscape. Drought-tolerant native or low water-use plantings, including ground covers, can take the place of turf. Download the “made for Abilene" Xeriscape plant list. (PDF File)
Hardscapes such as patios, decks and landscape bricks/paver can beautify your landscape while saving water.
If you must plant some turf grass, choose a turf that uses less water and requires less maintenance, such as Turffalo (www.turffalo.com). Water turf infrequently – about one inch each week. Irrigate ONLY when a plant needs water.
Download the “made for Abilene” Xeriscape Plant list!
7. Appropriate Maintenance
Preserve the beauty of your Xeriscape with regular maintenance. The first year or two, your new landscape will probably require a fair amount of weeding, but as plants mature they will crowd out the weeds, significantly reducing your maintenance time.
In addition to weeding, your Xeriscape will need proper irrigation, pruning, fertilizing and pest control. Maintenance time for a new garden is similar to a traditional landscape, but it decreases over time. In addition to weeding, proper irrigation, pruning, fertilizing and pest control will keep your landscape beautiful and water thrifty. When your garden or yard is well taken care of, you can sit back and enjoy it.
For more information, please call Keep Abilene Beautiful at 325-734-3301, the City of Abilene Parks Division at 325-676-6223, the City of Abilene Information Office at 324-676-6677, or the Taylor county Extension office at 672-6048 or link to www.txsmartscape.com or the Texas Water Development Board at www.twdb.state.tx.us