Xeriscaping is a garden system that is focused on water conservation—it requires little to no supplemental irrigation.
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Xeriscaping garden
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If you live in an area where droughts are common, or if you're looking to reduce your landscape's watering needs, consider turning to xeriscaping. In its simplest form, this garden system is focused on water conservation and requires little to no supplemental irrigation. Adopting this system also means less work for you: The style of gardening typically includes plants that are drought tolerant and can withstand infrequent maintenance. 

What Is Xeriscaping? 

Xeriscaped landscapes depend on what the natural climate provides in order for flora to thrive—meaning they need no additional water beyond rainfall once established. Creating this type of garden can be achieved in many ways and can look different depending on where you live. "Southern California xeriscaping will often look very desert-like with agave, cactus, and gravel," says Roger Davis, outdoor landscape manager of the east section at Longwood Gardens. "Xeriscaping on the East Coast could look like a traditional lush garden using plants that are drought tolerant." 

With that said, there are many ways to xeriscape your yard. Look to the below tips and consider implementing ones that work for your growing region and garden aesthetic.

Gravel garden with flowers
Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Epping

Add Drought-Tolerant Perennials 

Oftentimes, native perennials are the plants of choice in low-water gardens since they are drought tolerant by nature. Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea Pallida), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia Hirta), October skies (Aster Oblongifolium), and eastern beebalm (Monarda Bradburiana) are all examples of herbaceous perennials that are ideal for xeriscaping. 

Gravel garden with rock seats and wild flowers
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Make Gravel Gardens

Rock or gravel gardens are a specialized form of xeriscaping in which primarily native plants are grown in soil overlaid with washed, clear gravel. The style of gardening is designed to require no additional watering, soil amendments, mulching, or weeding. 

"Traditionally, lawns provided a garden with the crucial component of negative space, meaning a place in the landscape for your eye to rest and take in the composition of the garden," says Holly Kuljian, principal and landscape architect of Pine House Edible Gardens. Using gravel is an effective, low maintenance way to recreate that negative space in a more sustainable way.

Longwood Gardens Rosemary
Credit: Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

Try Mediterranean Plants

Mediterranean plants native to areas like Italy, France, Spain, and other parts of Europe add stunning interest to xeriscaped landscapes. The drought-tolerant plants love full sun and medium to dry well-drained soils, making them a great choice for this type of low-water system. 

Olive trees, rosemary, lavender, and Greek oregano are all examples of Mediterranean plants that can thrive in xeriscaped conditions. "These are not only low water, but edible, too," says Kuljian. "Other edible plants on the lower water end of the spectrum include dragon fruit, artichoke, figs, pomegranate, pineapple, guava, capers, and cardoon."

Hardscaping outside grass path with rocks and concrete
Credit: Courtesy of Refugia

Use Pavers

Walkways are a key element to any garden, and can also be incorporated into xeriscaped landscapes. "Integrating xeriscaping with natural materials to create seating arrangements, borders, and pathways feels cohesive, and can be overlaid upon crushed stone to increase the landscape's permeability," says Jeff Lorenz, Refugia founder of Refugia

When implementing pavers, you want to create a permeable hardscape that can aid water drainage. "Utilizing pea gravel for driveways and pathways, or overlaying larger steppers over crushed stone, maximizes the landscape's ability to slow, spread, and soak stormwater back into the aquifer, replenishing precious resources," Lorenz says.

Potted succulents plants
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Plant Succulents

Add color and structure to your landscape with succulents. "Succulents are a perfect border plant in mild climates because they provide year round interest and are generally very low maintenance," says Kuljian. 

If you're looking for inspiration, opt for one of the most popular and easy to grow plants for xeriscaping: Hens and chicks. "They form a tight rosette but continue to develop new plants," says Adrienne R. Roethling, the director of curation and mission delivery at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden. Plant them just at the surface by scratching away the top layer of soil and resting them on the ground while they root in.  

Garden path with mulch
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Add Mulch 

Mulch is used in many garden systems, including xeriscaping, as it helps suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. "Adding mulch to your garden helps reduce evapotranspiration, allowing water to be absorbed into the soil for roots and healthier soil life," says Roethling. 

The type of mulch you use will be dictated by your climate and the types of plants you're growing. "A Mediterranean-inspired garden will probably utilize gravel mulch and the plantings will have blue-and-silver foliage," says Davis. "Mulching with gravel is a popular choice because it allows the crown of the plants to stay drier during the winter where wooden mulch would hold moisture and possibly rot the plants' crown."

Phyla nodiflora, frog fruit, sawtooth fog fruit or turkey tangle. Ornamental plant for ground cover. Garden.
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Use Ground Covers 

Lawn alternatives are growing in popularity as a low maintenance and more sustainable substitute for traditional grass. This is where ground covers come in—the mat-forming plants choke out weeds, control erosion, fill in liminal space, and require little maintenance. "Ground covers such as Dymondia margaretae or Lippia repens are good alternatives to a lawn," says Kuljian. "They can handle foot traffic and require much less water."

Agave in garden
Credit: Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

Garden With Container Plants

Add diversity to your xeriscaped landscape by displaying a few potted plants. Typically container plants require more water than those grown in the ground because the soil dries out faster, but drought-tolerant succulents, like agave, offer a solution. A xeriscape superstar, agave thrives as a container plant—it doesn't need much space to flourish and it has a shallow root system.

No mow lawn
Credit: Courtesy of Refugia

Plant No-Mow Grasses

Replace existing turf grass with a no-mow, drought-tolerant option. Not only does this remove your need for traditional lawn maintenance, like mowing and edging, but it also helps conserve water. "Carex texensis mixed with fine fescues offers a native, drought-tolerant alternative to a traditional lawn that simply requires an annual winter haircut," says Lorenz. 

Other no-mow grasses, also known as eco-lawns, include custom mixes of creeping red fescue, chewing fescue, and hard fescue, which are mostly evergreen and tolerate light foot traffic. "Clumping perennial sedges such as Carex pensylvanica or Carex leavenworthii will quickly colonize and require little more than [one mowing per year]," says Lorenz.

Tulipa praestans 'Shogun'
Credit: Courtesy of Jeff Epping

Plant Bulbs

Although bulbs are often seen in traditional perennial gardens, many species are hardy enough to withstand the adverse growing conditions of a xeriscaped landscape. Standard daffodils, varieties of tulips, and allium cultivars all like full sun and medium to dry, well-drained soil—so they're perfect for xeriscaping. 

In addition to being a good candidate for this type of gardening system, bulbs are an attractive way to add color to your landscape and they often draw pollinators like bees and butterflies.

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