To create a landscape that is water efficient, makes use of indigenous plants and promotes the use of natural resources for heating and cooling in the home is to xeriscape. The practice of xeriscaping is seen predominantly in the Southwestern United States, where much of the land is desert and water can be scarce. Xeriscapes, though, are not confined to cacti and rocks, nor are they maintenance free.
The term "xeriscape" originated in Denver. In 1981, the Denver Water Co. put forth the concept of designing landscapes that would reduce water usage. The word "xeros" is from the Greek word meaning dry. Coupled with the word "scape," meaning view, xeriscape came to represent the concept of dry landscaping.
A xeriscape is not void of plant life. It is not a dusty expanse with one lone, thorny Ocotillo tree. It is populated with native plants, such as agaves and cacti, with flowerbeds and vegetables gardens as well as evergreen trees and deciduous trees.
You can even have a lawn within your xeriscape. Rather than cover your entire outdoor land with grass, however, you would confine the grass to a play area for children or for outdoor games such as touch football.
A xeriscape doesn't deprive you of a well-appointed landscape; it encourages a natural landscape. In the desert Southwest, for example, lush blue-grass lawns require tremendous amounts of water to survive the desert heat. It's considered better to employ such heat-tolerant grasses as Bermuda or Buffalo grass.
For flowerbeds, a xeriscape may include coneflowers, sunflowers, daisies and hostas, to name but a few flowers that are drought tolerant. Vegetables thrive throughout the year from summer squash to winter squash. Herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme also do well in the arid climate.
Strategically planted deciduous trees provide shade for your home in the summer and allow for solar heating in the cooler months. Evergreens provide greenery year round, and require very little care.
When planning your xeriscaping project, one of the more important aspects is to design an irrigation system that works efficiently with your plantings. In turn, you want to group your plantings according to their watering needs.
By directing water to plants using drip and sprinkler systems, and controlling the amount of water each grouping receives, you can ultimately "train" your plants to survive, and thrive, with minimal amounts of water.
Though a xeriscape requires maintenance, as does any landscape, one of the benefits is less strenuous maintenance. Rock gardens do not require as much care as blue-grass lawns. Many drought-tolerant flowers have longer flowering cycles and are perennials. You save time and money by reducing the amount of replanting.
Once trees are established, very little water is required. Pruning is seasonal and minimal. With smaller grassy areas, lawn maintenance is reduced, as is water usage and use of fertilizers.
The greatest benefit, of course, is conservation of a natural, and sometimes scare, resource: water.