How to Create a Beautiful, Water – Conserving Landscape.

Written By: Clara Beaufort

Water shortages are becoming increasingly common around the world, and the United States is no exception. It’s no wonder that people all around the country are turning to xeriscaping, permaculture, and other approaches to create a garden that requires low water input to thrive. You’ll be pleased to note, however, that you don’t need to sacrifice on aesthetics to put these techniques into practice. Here’s how to create a water-efficient landscape that looks great.

BUILD SWALES

A swale is a trench with a flat bottom, usually dug along the natural contour of sloped land, whose purpose is to catch rainwater and hold it temporarily. From there, the water can seep slowly into the soil, as opposed to running off quickly and dragging the topsoil along with it. Lining swales with trees or plants not only looks great, it helps retain water underground, from where it can spread to the landscape around the swale. Swales are more efficient than traditional rainwater catchment systems (that is, buckets and barrels) because the water is already exactly where it needs to be, and as a natural improvement, they look better too.

 


CONSTRUCT BERMS

A berm is a manufactured raised area to the landscape. You can use them to add variety and interest to flat yards, using stones and careful plant choices to add aesthetic appeal. On graded land you can construct them at the bottom of the slope to catch rainwater runoff, and you can increase the efficiency of the berm by using it to direct water into a swale. In doing so, plants placed on the berm can then access the water in the swale, so they’ll need less maintenance. When planning out your berm, remember that the south side will receive more sunlight and heat than the north side — keep this in mind when choosing your plants.


XERICAPE

If the dry season is hitting your area hard, xeriscaping is the way to go. Xeriscaping is a landscaping system specifically designed to conserve water in dry climates (the name stems from “xeros,” the Greek word for dry).

Xeriscaping follows seven principles:
1.Include water conservation in every aspect of planning
2.Improve soil quality — unless your chosen plants prefer unimproved soil
3.Limit lawn area, as grass is water-intensive
4.Use drought-tolerant plants native to your region
5.Do not have any areas of bare soil — cover it with mulch to retain moisture
6.Irrigate efficiently — ideally, with a system that irrigates deeper and less often
7.Maintain the garden regularly

Xeriscapes are not only water-conserving, they are low-maintenance, too. Once established, you’ll pretty much only be reaching for your garden gloves to re-mulch and de-weed.

 


CHOOSE PLANTS CAREFULLY

The main principle for plant choice is to aim for plants with deep roots. Such plants can store relatively large amounts of water underground, helping them last longer during a drought. In dry areas, landscapers often opt to have a shade tree transplanted in — even if not fully mature, a tree can be strategically positioned to protect sensitive plants from the blistering southwest sunshine. You can use drought-tolerant shrubs like bush cinquefoil or Adam’s-needle yucca to provide a transition from the tree to the rest of the landscape. Although many drought-resistant plants have earthy shades, that’s not always the case – creeping phlox, nasturtium (pictured), and sedum are examples of low maintenance plants that can add a splash of color.


PLAN PLAN AND PLAN

When resources like water are limited, planning is key. Spend a lot of time working out which modifications and improvements you’ll make to the land, which plants you’ll choose, and where they’ll go. Do all this in unison — a swale in one area will affect the plants you choose to put around it, a tree in another area means you’ll want plants that enjoy shade nearby. It takes some work, but if you’re mindful of what impacts your choices make on the plants around them, you can create a landscape that’s as efficient as it is beautiful.