Xeriscaping, also known as drought tolerant landscaping, is gaining ground in states such as California and Arizona, especially as water bills have residents looking for relief.
Landscapers in those areas are working hard to demonstrate that xeriscaping, while focusing on less thirsty plants, needn’t be dull or dry itself.
When some people think of desert landscaping, “they picture in their minds rock, gravel and cactus,” Melanie Mackenzie, a landscape designer, told a reporter for the Visalia Times-Delta at the recent Spring Fest Home and Patio Show. “And that’s just not it.”
Mackenzie, along with numerous other exhibitors at the California show, are part of the growing movement demonstrating that xeriscaping can include lush vegetation and flowers, as well as prickly cacti. The message has certainly made an impact on homeowners in that area.
More education is needed, however, as the trend moves from the deserts to colder, wetter areas — or as people from the Northeast move into the Southwest and treat their desert plants the way they treated their lawns back home. A New York Times feature from Feb. 3 pointed out that overwatering and overcrowding are both common problems for xeriscape-friendly plants, even leading to full-time employment for landscapers who specialize in reviving mistreated cacti.
“Whatever landscape style you choose, educate yourself to manage it properly,” Arizona State University horticulture professor Chris A. Martin advised in a Feb. 9 article for the university’s news page. “Regardless of your design motif, adjust your management strategies to optimize the design’s intentions, and take into account all the microenvironments of your yard before you plant.”
Water usage isn’t the only environmental concern that proper planting can alleviate, however.
Linda Langelo, a horticulture program associate at Colorado State University, wrote Feb. 12 for the Journal-Advocate that more homeowners should consider “FireWise” plants to reduce the likelihood of their homes burning in case of a wildfire.
Plants with high water content — not just succulents, but also flowers such as Oriental poppy, saxifrage, and rockrose — are among those suggested by Langelo.
Planting patterns, leaving gaps between dry plants and a home’s foundation, can also make a difference when it comes to not adding more fuel to the fire.
And barring natural disasters, trees can also provide windbreaks and reduce the amount of heat that transfers into a home in the summertime, both of which can lead to energy savings when it comes to heating and cooling.