Xeriscaping is a fancy word for gardening with as little water as possible or, depending on the selection of plants, with no water at all; which makes it eminently suitable for maintaining a garden in a world running dry.
This style of gardening need not be a growing area full of nothing but cacti and succulents — although it is recommended that they are included in beds/containers of their own — as a surprising number of lovely flowering plants are quite capable, once established, of thriving on very small amounts of precious water, preferably of the recycled kind.
There are some basic tricks to creating a sustainable xeriscape garden:
A xeriscape garden, suitable for water-scarce environments, uses local, drought-resistant plants in efficient ways
Soil preparation is of utmost importance. Irrespective of whether soil is high on sand or is predominantly clay, digging in copious amounts of compost, leaf mould, fully rotted manure or a combination of all three — with an emphasis on organic, of course — before planting anything is a must. Amending existing soil in this way adds a varied array of essential nutrients, encourages microorganisms to work to their full capacity, increases beneficial soil life of all kinds and vastly improves the water retention properties of the soil.
Garden layout is equally important. Plants with the same growing requirements should be grouped together. Some plants prefer shade to direct sun, others enjoy partial shade; some may need watering just once a week, others may need no water after the initial watering in phase. It goes without saying, tall plants should be at the back, smaller ones in front. Such groupings make for easier management and an irrigation schedule, where needed, that is uncomplicated to implement.
Careful selection of, preferably, indigenous plant varieties that are known to require very little, if any, water with these plant groups playing major roles: Cacti and succulents, drought-tolerant shrubs and creepers, plants that thrive in desert or near- desert conditions, other drought-tolerant species that bear beautiful flowers have eye-catching foliage, with ornamental, dry-soil, grasses for added interest.
Giving priority to perennial (permanent) plant species over purely annual/seasonal ones is preferable but, admittedly, seasonal flowers, even in pots, can add distinct splashes of vibrant colour that may otherwise be missed — these though will, no doubt, require regular watering.
Mulching around plants to conserve soil moisture, reduce evaporation, continually feed the soil as it breaks down, suppressing weeds in the process, is highly important. The mulch — a subject detailed in this column quite a few times in the past — being laid around the plants without actually coming into direct contact with their stems — should be two to three inches deep and maintained at this level via topping up whenever necessary.
Ideally, a xeriscape garden contains very little, if any, lawn area and, if there is such an area, it is one which can be, and is, in regular use, not simply looked at.
TOP PLANTS FOR CREATING A SUSTAINABLE XERISCAPE GARDEN
Cacti and succulents: These two groups of plants contain literally hundreds of different varieties with extremely varied growth habits. The majority of them also produce stunning flowers when mature and others have lovely coloured foliage. Some can reach gigantic sizes and others have creeping habits that makes them excellent ground-cover material. Examples: the Opuntia cactus or Prickly pear can easily attain a height of 15 feet and a similar spread, although it does take quite a few years for it to do this. It bears golden-coloured, daisy-like flowers in spring and early summer, and these are followed by a delicious fruit, known as an Indian fig.
Opuntias have both large and small thorns, some as fine as hair, so it must be handled with extreme care and leather gloves. Agaves and Aloes are found in sizes ranging from very small to very tall. Many have variegated leaves and they tend to produce white, yellow or red spikes of bloom. Lithopes — living stones — are tiny plants that resemble intricately patterned pebbles until, that is, they suddenly burst into eye-catching flower. Sedum varieties tend to be rock lovers, trailing masses of predominantly pink or yellow blooms down or over rockeries and other rock formations. The well-known Euphorbia needs no introduction and are more drought-tolerant than many people seem to think.
Shrubs and creepers/climbers: Yuccas deserve a prominent place in any xeriscape garden. They can reach over 12 feet in height and slightly less in width when they reach maturity. Their creamy flower spikes are a glorious sight and bees love them.
Whilst poisonous, Oleander is so pretty that it would be a shame not to include it here. Its perfumed flowers may be pink, deep red, white or peach and in single or double form. Never forget though that all of its parts are poisonous and please wear gloves when handling it.
Then there are the following to consider: Lantana, Buddleia, Russian sage, Echiums, Bougainvillea, Adenium, lavender, blue globe-thistle, rosemary, Japanese flowering quince and Juniper.
Perennial flowers: Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Limonium, Yarrow, Verbena, Wallflowers, curry plant, Sedum varieties, Rose campion, Valerian, Euphorbia, Coreopsis, African daisies, Liatris along with annual Portulaca and Californian poppies.
Foliage plants: Quite a few of the aforementioned plants, especially in the succulent department, double up as attractive foliage plants on an all-year-round basis.
Ornamental grasses: Pampas grass, blue fescue and wheat grass are just three of the many grasses that are perfectly at home in a xeriscape garden.
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Published in Dawn, EOS, September 15th, 2019