Are You Water-Wise? A Look at Xeriscapes

April 28th, 2010 by
There is no commodity more precious to us yard lovers than water.  But with many areas around the country experiencing severe drought conditions in recent years, professional landscapers and backyard gardeners alike have had to find ways to make the absolute most out of every drop. The trend is called xeriscaping, and while it literally translates to “dry landscaping,” it does not necessarily mean an all-cactus-and-gravel landscape, despite popular opinion to the contrary.  In truth, it means (among other things) paying special attention to the plants you use in your yard, grouping plants with similar watering requirements together, and using plants that naturally thrive in your particular climate and location.  When it’s done right, it means you can have a lush landscape like the one that Flutterby Gardens Landscaping, LLC installed in this Boise, ID yard… and it requires no supplemental watering whatsoever!

Water-wise landscaping

One of the key goals of xeriscaping is to capture the rainwater that falls on the property and keep it on the property for as long as possible, instead of letting it run off and go to waste down a storm drain.  Many landscapers are tying a home’s downspouts into underground piping networks, where the water is collected in a buried cistern, or reservoir tank, and then pumped back out through the irrigation system.  In an existing landscape and on a smaller scale, homeowners can attach a rain barrel to a downspout, usually for around a hundred bucks, and enjoy free water to use as they wish.  In Danvers, IL, Wendy and Marty Striegel have routed their downspouts to a water feature.  Rain feeds a gorgeous pond and waterfall, meaning they should be able to keep it pumping even under a drought-induced watering ban!

Rainwater Recycling Pond

Sprinkler systems often get a bad rap in our new water-conscious world, but manufacturers have gotten far away from those old-fashioned pop-ups that blast would water all over the lawn, the beds, the sidewalk, and the driveway… and then ratchet back around to do it all over again.  Now, drip irrigation is the watchword, with tubes snaking through planting beds that literally put out one drop at a time.  Some high-end lawns are even being watered from underneath, by subterranean systems that eliminate any possibility of water loss by evaporation.  And instead of those wasteful water-cannon rotors, things like tiny micro-bubblers are staked around individual trees and shrubs to emit a controlled mini-shower right on top of a plant’s root zone:

Micro Bubbler Sprinkler

This is just a taste of what’s out there in the world of water-wise gardening.  New technologies and techniques are being developed every day to help landscapers and backyard gardeners win the water war.  Several are on display in an impressive garden in Lansing, MI.  Felice’s Four Seasons installed rain gardens, low-lying planting areas packed with water-loving specimens.  These deliberately-designed bogs fill with rainwater and then drain quickly, keeping the water on-site:

Rain Garden

Even the hardscapes get in on the moisture-misering.  Permeable paver walkways and a porous concrete sidewalk are capable of capturing rainwater and letting it drain through to the ground below, where it can be accessed later by plants that need it:


Permeable Pavers allow for draining rainwater

From soaker hoses and spigot timers all the way to satellite-controlled sprinkler systems that control irrigation by analyzing a particular yard’s evapotranspiration levels, every bit of water saved is a small step in the right direction.  It may just be a drop in the bucket.  But that’s the point.