If it were better understood, xeriscaping and drought tolerant design would be practiced more often than it already is. Xeriscape based design can be very beautiful and generally requires less water, fertilizer, maintenance, and pest control than traditional landscaping. And, of course, using less of these will save you time and money.
The principles of xeriscaping address the areas of slope, plants, plant groups, watering methods, and soil. And because xeric design is based on principles, shape and other design aspects can be based on and used for any design style.
The main fundamentals of xeriscape are:
You may want to approach xeriscape in one of two ways. One is to "adjust" your existing landscaping ideas to be more water wise and drought tolerant. The other is to design and construct an entirely new water wise landscape.
The basics of transforming an existing landscape to water wisdom are really very simple. We'll look at xeriscaping basics and principles here and for design considerations, you can go to Xeriscaping Design Ideas or xeriscaping pictures.
A common thought is that xeriscaping is strictly rocks and cactus. While this may be one way of doing it, Xeriscape principles can be applied to most any garden design style.
Plant selection. Besides the native plants already adapted to your area, there are many colorful drought tolerant plants native to other climates such as Southern Europe, North Africa, Western Asia, South Africa, and Australia that will thrive in your garden.
A reasonable knowledge of plants is an essential key to a successful water-wise garden or any landscape design.
You can discover a lot of helpful information about native plants and their properties from the xeriscaping and native plant directory. You may also look up plant information by State in the Native Plants Directory on this site as well.
Proper grouping of plants is a main principle of xeriscaping. Grouping plants with similar water needs allows them to be watered as required with very little waste. By planting high water use plants separate from low water use and no water use plants, you can regulate water needs more accurately. Your irrigation system can be zoned according to plant needs which will save resources and money.
If you don't have an automatic irrigation/drip system in place, you should consider it. Along with the rest of your design, this is something you can easily do yourself. And doing it yourself can also save you a lot of money.
Watering: Plants love infrequent deep waterings much more than frequent shallow waterings. The same is especially true for xeriscape plants. Most non-xeric plants require a deep soak about once a week in dry summer. Xeric, native plants require a soak about every two to three weeks once established.
Proper grading allows water to soak into the soil and be used by plants rather than being allowed to run off. Slopes can be terraced or simple wells around each plant can be created. To see an example of how we used terracing in a water wise landscape, go to terraced xeriscape. To see more examples of terracing and slopes see Landscaping On A Slope
The use of mulch is encouraged for successful xeriscaping. Mulching has several benefits for the soil. It retains water better than plain dirt, reduces soil temperature, supports and increases essential bacteria, and gives the surface soil an "alive" look and feel.
The word xeriscape comes from a combination of two other words: "xeri" derived from the Greek word "xeros" meaning dry; and "scape" meaning scene.
While this translates to mean "dry scene," the real concept behind xeriscaping is simply just the practice of regionally appropriate horticulture. Which translates to plain language as "using the best plants suited to your area or using native plants."
As a matter of fact, since xeriscaping is really more about plants than anything else it wouldn't take a major overhaul to make your landscape more water wise. It could be as simple as changing and adapting the plants you already use to some of the more beautiful native plants of your area and/or practicing the methods above.
Practicing regionally appropriate horticulture doesn't mean that your landscape has to look like a desert scene unless you just want it to.
Because this type of landscape design is low maintenance, low cost, and saves natural resources, I see it as not only a growing trend but as a necessity.
Along with the information on this page, another xeriscaping resources that I own and recommend is:
The Xeriscape Handbook: A How- to Guide to Natural, Resource-Wise Gardening
The book goes further into detail on xeriscaping projects and Xeriscape design.