Traditional landscaping for most of the United States is characterized by a green turf lawn accented by well-manicured trees and shrubs. But for areas prone to drought, where water is at a premium, traditional lawns that require frequent watering is not practical. In these areas, landscaping with native plants, which is known as xeriscaping, is an alternative.
Plants chosen for xeriscaping are typically native to the region of the landscape. Native plants are better adapted to the rainfall that occurs locally and do not need supplemental water to survive droughts. Native plants are also able to cope with local soil structures and pH as well as light intensity and exposure. For example, desert plants such as sagebrush will do well in strong sunlight and alkaline soil found in the desert southwest and Rocky Mountain regions. By contrast, native plants along the Florida coast, such as the century plant, must grow well in sandy soil and have a high salt tolerance.
Because plants that are adapted to your region require less upkeep and maintenance, you do not have to spend as much time working on a xeriscaped yard. Mowing, watering, fertilizing and aerating are no longer required to care for your yard. Additionally, native plants are healthier and more resistant to local plant diseases and pests. Finally, the amount of pollution in the form of runoff from pesticides, waste water from irrigation gasoline and emissions from your lawn mower are greatly reduced by using native plants.
Because many Americans have grown up with the idea that a yard means a well-manicured turf lawn, it can be difficult for your neighbors to accept your xeriscaped landscape as a viable landscape and not a bunch of weeds. Some xeriscape landscapers use a method called the "oasis" system of landscaping in which focal points of the lawn are landscaped with traditional, high-maintenance, or showy plants. Remote, less visible areas of your lawn may be landscaped using xeriscape plants.
When planning which plants to use in your xeriscaped landscape, consult local resources to find local plants. A native plant nursery, master gardener program or county extension service are all good resources for identifying local plants. You may also find records of native plants through diaries or historical records. Many plants that grow well in parts of the United States are actually introduced species that have crowded out native varieties.
When planning a xeriscape landscape, stay away from plants with high watering requirements, such as turf. In addition to native plants, you can also choose hardy introduced varieties. Be careful to stay away from invasive species. Although plants such as English ivy make a good ground cover, they may quickly get out of hand and cover everything. Good plants include vines such as vinca; ground covers such as monkey grass; perennial flowers such as iris; herbs that include rosemary; shrubs such as holly and trees, including oak.