Throughout the Desert Southwest, water is our lifeblood. To sustain life in the desert, we must learn to conserve our water resources without compromising our quality of life. By using low water use plants compatible with the arid Desert Southwest environment, you can develop colorful and practical landscapes without using unnecessarily large quantities of water. Every year, people save millions of gallons of water through the use of Xeriscape techniques.
The concept of Xeriscape is new to most homeowners, especially those new to the Southwest. The concept is based on several horticultural practices that are appropriate for the arid desert.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources lists 7 core principles of Xeriscaping:
- Thoughtful landscape planning & design - Begin with a plan, whether itís a new or remodeled landscape. A good design will avoid wasting your water, time, and money. Think long-term, and be realistic about the space requirements of mature plants. This will help you avoid maintenance headaches later on.
- Select low-water-use plants - Many books exist on this subject, and hundreds of native plants, as well as plants from other low-rainfall regions, are adapted to grow in the Sonoran Desert. Keep Principle Number 1 foremost in mind before buying plants for your Xeriscape. A good design is invaluable in selecting and combining water-efficient plants that will add beauty and utility to your outdoor areas.
- Appropriate turf (lawn) areas - Lawns use a lot of water. For that reason, include them when only a lawn will do, as in a childrenís play area. Keep the lawn area small and simple in shape, and border it with low-water-use plants. Select adapted grasses such as hybrid Bermudas. Avoid lawn for use only as a ground cover -- use other water-efficient ground covers instead. Inorganic mulches such as decomposed granite use zero water and can be effective as well.
- Efficient irrigation - Drip-irrigation systems are efficient at applying water to plants in the right amounts at the root zone. Use a timer and adjust schedules as plant needs change with age and from season to season. Check systems regularly to be sure they are working properly. If you water with a hose, learn the water requirements of all your plants -- they can vary quite a bit. Check soil for moisture to see if plants actually need water. Avoid sprinkling; water deeply and infrequently after new plants are established.
- Improve the soil - Adding organic matter to the soil before planting increases its water- and nutrient-holding capacity, which improves plant growth and efficient use of water. Annuals, perennials, and vegetables -- plants that are planted in close proximity to one another -- are prime candidates. Low-water-use native trees, shrubs, and ground covers usually do just fine in unimproved existing soil, but they often appreciate organic mulches.
- Use mulches - Mulch is a layer of just about any material -- organic or inorganic -- that covers the soil over the root area of plants. Mulch reduces moisture loss through evaporation, insulates plant roots from heat and cold extremes, and cuts down on weed populations that steal water and nutrients from your plants. Add a few inches of organic mulch each spring -- it will decompose to improve the soil.
- Appropriate maintenance - Healthy plants grow and look better, as you would naturally expect, and use water more efficiently. Prune properly at the right time of year. Do not prune heavily at any one time, particularly during summer. Keep a close and regular eye out for pests and diseases. You want to spot them early when controls are easier and more effective. Keep up with weeds. Donít over-fertilize, which can result in excessive plant growth that requires even more pruning.
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