This entry is by our guest blogger and resident homesteader, Alicia Owen
It is a strange-sounding word but there are some great reasons why you should care about xeriscaping!
Homeowners that are looking for drought-resistant design will be pleased to find unique, low maintenance, and native plant options in this type of landscaping. Xeriscaping is the process of landscaping or gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation. The practice has gained a lot of popularity across the U.S. recently around drought-prone, desert regions. It specifically includes the use of native, drought-resistant plants to create a garden oasis that saves water and maintenance.
Why Others Care About Xeriscaping
Xeriscaping began sometime in the 1980s as an answer to the western states’ increasing droughts and overtaxed water tables. Home and business owners alike wanted aesthetically pleasing green spaces, but without using as much water to maintain them. Denver, Colorado, was the first major metropolitan area to implement this landscaping style (and is also said to have coined the term). Xeriscaping has been increasing in popularity ever since and has now made its way to the Midwest.
Historically, midwesterners haven’t had to worry as much about droughts and water scarcity like the western states. However, it still makes sense to invest in xeriscaping. As more people become aware of the effect their lives have on the environment, including lawn management, many are turning to xeriscape for sustainable landscaping that is beautiful and functional.
In western states, it is estimated that homeowners who implement xeriscaping reduce their water usage between 50-75%. Midwestern water usage may vary due to the amount of rainfall we receive, but any amount of conservation is helpful to nature.
The Seven Principles of Successful Xeriscaping
With some basics about xeriscaping out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some guiding principles that will contribute to a successful installation.
1. Design – Map out the area you will be landscaping. Keep in mind the grade of the area, whether it receives mostly sun or shade, and what type of soil you have. You might be surprised to find some soils rockier or more clay-like than you would expect.
2. Turf – In general, xeriscaping seeks to limit or altogether remove any turf, or regular grassy areas of lawn. Keep your children and pets in mind when you are still in the design stage as you will likely want to keep an area of lawn for them to play in, as well as letting your pets “do their business.”
3. Plants – Native plants are an essential part of xeriscaping as they are already acclimated to the local weather and precipitation levels. You want to choose from a variety of water-efficient shrubs, flowers, and grasses to reduce your water usage even further. Although not necessarily native, many herbs are an excellent choice in xeriscapes installed anywhere. Planting things with similar water needs also helps in efficient watering when they do need extra soaking.
4. Irrigation – An important consideration is how to efficiently utilize the water at your disposal. Will you be using some form of an irrigation system in place for the dry summer months? You might also consider collecting rainwater (in some fun ways) to use in your system, further eliminating the costs of watering.
5. Soil – Your area will likely need some soil amendments to help with proper water retention and drainage, to allow your plants to get every drop. You may also need to grade certain areas to avoid rain runoff, instead directing it to plants that need it.
6. Mulch – Mulch is another key in keeping your soil and plants healthy. It helps soil maintain a consistent temperature, retain moisture, and prevents weed growth. It also adds organic material back to the earth as it breaks down over time.
7. Maintenance – After a couple of years, your xeriscaped yard will grow into low-maintenance landscaping for the most part. Still, you should keep in mind that it will require some care in the beginning of xeriscaping, such as watering, fertilizing, and pest prevention.
Why Native Plants?
As Greenscape Geeks has mentioned in prior posts, we use exclusively native plants to support and nurture the local ecology of an area. Native plants are efficient in their resource usage; these plants use less water, fertilizer, and pesticide because they have already adapted to the conditions of your area. This all ties into less maintenance for you!
In central Indiana, traditional xeriscaping with highly drought-resistant plants and stone gardens isn’t as important. The midwest receives precipitation throughout most of the year. However, it is still a good idea to choose plants that can withstand some heat if you keep watering to a minimum, especially during the hot summer months. In keeping with guideline #7 above, you may need to water during the first two years of your xeriscape as it becomes established. Yet, with efficient landscape design, you should rarely have to water.
As mentioned above, using native plants in your xeriscape design is that they help support local wildlife populations. Flowering plants, of course, help sustain pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Shrubs and trees in your xeriscape can provide food and shelter for other critters as well, such as squirrels, rabbits, and birds.
Designing and Installing a Xeriscape
While it’s always exciting to start a new project, keep in mind that any successful landscaping job takes advanced planning and research. Try the following ideas to help center your custom landscaping vision.
One easy step to start off transforming your yard is researching native plants to use in your design. You might be surprised to find that many native plants are as beautiful and eye-catching as exotic ornamentals. They may even bloom fuller and longer! Take notes around a state park, or wilderness area for inspiration. Spring and summer are especially good times for doing this. The majority of breathtaking wildflowers you see during these seasons, like bluebells, black-eyed susans, and joe-pye weed, are native plants! This Native Plant Finder tool from the National Wildlife Federation and this extensive list of native Indiana plants from The Indiana Native Plant Society are terrific knowledge bases. These groups have a vibrant community ready to help with any questions you may have. As always, reach out to Indianapolis landscapers, Greenscape Geeks, as they’d love to nerd out with you.
As you gather information, start to form an idea of the amount of space and what elements you would like to incorporate. Plant preference, trees, shrubs, and/or rock features are important considerations. This will give you a good starting point on how much you should expect to invest in your project.
If you’re unsure about doing the work yourself, let Greenscape Geeks help. The Geeks are thrilled at any chance to answer questions about eco-friendly landscaping and efficient landscape design. Schedule a consultation at your convenience, either digitally or in-person.
Greenscape Geeks is a central Indiana landscape architecture and landscape design, construction, and lawn maintenance company, serving Indianapolis (including Meridian Kessler, Herron Morton, Williams Creek, and Irvington), Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, and Zionsville.