A “xeriscape” is a landscape which uses plants that have low water requirements. Any home-owner who has experienced drought, high summer water bills, or dissatisfaction with a stressed-looking landscape, despite the care given to it, can appreciate the benefits of drought-tolerant landscaping.
The natural landscape of western America was shaped by its low levels of rainfall. Today’s urban landscape is often artificial, attempting to recreate landscapes which originated in the eastern United States where rainfall averages 30 inches or more per year.
Planning your landscape design in advance of planting has always been recommended and with a xeric landscape, it is even more important. To create a drought-tolerant landscape, consider the following guidelines:
1. Plan your landscape according to visual priorities
An area which is often viewed at close range, such as your front entrance, should receive high priority for visual impact and therefore would merit a higher water usage. A low-use area, such as a backyard corner planting could use plants which require less irrigation.
2. Reduce lawn areas
No other component of your landscape uses as much water as your lawn. Large, low-use lawn areas could be replaced with drought-tolerant plantings of creeping junipers, sedums, or different types of ground-covers and native perennials. When planted in beds that feature a landscape fabric and a mulch atop the fabric, these planting areas not only conserve water but require much less maintenance than a lawn.
Another way to reduce your lawn area is to incorporate more hard surfaces into your landscape, such as patios, decks, and walkways. Try to emphasize natural materials, such as rock flagstone, gravel “mulch”, or out-croppings of large boulders. You can make these hard surface areas appear less rigid by incorporating flowing lines into their design.
3. Use native plants
Native plants are those which are found locally and have adapted to our dry, cold climate. Many of the plants we use as ornamentals have been introduced from other climatic areas. These plants do well as long as we can provide the conditions required for their optimum growth. These conditions usually include more water, and winter protection. There are many native plants which have excellent ornamental value, yet are more tolerant of cold, heat, and drought.
Following is a list of various plants (native and non-native) which are especially suitable for use in xeric landscapes.
- Amur Maple—Acer ginnala
- Catalpa—Catalpa speciosa
- Hackberry—Celtis occidentalis
- Green Ash—Fraxinus pennsylvanica
- Honeylocust—Gleditsia triacanthos inermis
- Rocky Mountain Juniper—Juniperus scopulorum
- Black Hills Spruce—Picea glauca
- Colorado Spruce—Picea pungens
- Ponderosa Pine—Pinus ponderosa
- Bur Oak—Quercus macrocarpa
- Russian Olive—Elaeagnus angustifolius
- Siberian pea-shrub—Caragana species
- Juniper —Juniperus species
- Potentilla—Potentilla species
- American Plum—Prunus americana
- Chokecherry—Prunus virginiana
- Sumac—Rhus species
- Alpine Currant—Ribes alpinum
- Buffalo-berry—Shepherdia argentea
- Lilac—Syringa species
- Nanyberry Viburnum—Viburnum lentago
- Mountain Mahogany—Cercocarpus ledifolius
- Western Sandcherry—Prunus besseyi
Perennials & Grasses
- Yarrow—Achillea species
- Purple Coneflower—Echinacea purpurea
- Sea Holly—Eryngium alpinum
- Blue Fescue—Festuca ovina
- Indian Blanket Flower—Gaillardia species
- Daylily—Hemerocallis species
- Bearded Iris—Iris species
- Gayfeather—Liatris species
- Missouri Primrose—Oenthera species
- Ribbon Grass—Phalaris arundinaceae
- Desert Candle—Yucca filamentosa
- Pink Pussy Toes—Antennaria species
- Snow-in-summer—Cerastium tomentosum
- Creeping phlox—Phlox subulata
- Creeping Juniper—Juniperus species
- Stonecrop—Sedum species
- Hens & Chicks—Sempervium tectorum
- Lamb’s Ears—Stachys lanata
- Buffalo-grass—Buchloe dactyloides
- Gro-lo Sumac—Rhus aromotic