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Part Of The High Country Gardens Waterwise Plants Learning Center

How To Plan A Waterwise Garden Or Xeriscape

Gardening with water conservation in mind is a good strategy for sustainable gardening, no matter where you live. Get tips from the experts at High Country Gardens. 

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How To Choose Waterwise Plants  |  Waterwise Yard Ideas

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Gardening With Water Conservation In Mind

The American West is known for hot, dry climates - but regions across the country are experiencing more frequent droughts and hotter weather. Fortunately, it is possible to have a beautiful blooming garden without having a high water bill to maintain it. In fact, one of the most effective ways to conserve water at home is with waterwise landscaping. 

There is no need to "zeroscape" your yard and remove all living things to save water – xeriscape your yard for a beautiful, blooming, resilient landscape. Designing your garden or yard makeover with water conservation in mind will save water, while also supporting healthy soil, pollinators, birds, and wildlife. It's a win-win!

Sustainability begins in your backyard. Use these six principles to guide your waterwise gardening endeavors.

Plan Your Water Use Zones

Whether you're starting from scratch, or renovating an existing landscape, part of the planning process involves creating water use zones (also called hydrozones). This planning process will help you allocate water usage to where it will most directly contribute to the beauty and comfort of your home.

Plus, when you identify you water zones, it will help you group plants that have the same water requirements together, for easy garden maintenance and happy plant groupings.

There are three water use zones:

  • Zone One: Oasis Zone | Closest to your house and/or the easiest access to water.
  • Zone Two: Transition Zone | Middle ground including the approach to your home, moderate water access.
  • Zone Three: Xeric Zone | Outermost area of your property, without access to supplemental water.

Zone One: Oasis Zone

The oasis zone is the area up close to the house, where the landscape is visible and accessible from your home. If you plan to use regular moisture or high moisture perennials in your garden, this is the zone where we recommend planting them, since they are closest to water sources.

Oasis Zone Tips: 

Zone Two: Transition Zone

The transition zones are areas that occupy the middle ground of the property, especially along walkways, driveways, fences and other areas that are visible as you approach the house. You'll want to use plants that are waterwise and require less maintenance in these areas. You may also add areas of sustainable lawn for walking and playing.

Transition Zone Tips: 

  • Some homeowners opt to forego an oasis zone and bring the transition zone right up to the house. With our xeric and waterwise plant selection, you can easily can design a beautiful garden, while providing additional water savings.
  • If you're growing a lawn, opt for a low-water lawn alternative.

Zone Three: Xeric Zone

The xeric zone is the outermost area along the property boundary and other out-of-the way areas that do not have access to water. These are the areas where it is most important to choose plants that will not need supplemental water in your region. Mass planting and naturalizing plants are ideal for these spaces.

Xeric Zone Tips: 

Choose Waterwise Plants For Your Growing Conditions

Perhaps the most important principle in any garden design is determining what your needs are in the landscape. The arid West is where xeriscape gardens first achieved popularity, but their fame and practicality is now spreading to other parts of the country. No matter where you live, it’s always important to consider your growing conditions when selecting plants.

High Country Gardens was founded to provide gardeners with a diverse and ever-expanding palette of waterwise plants, well-suited plants for the unique challenges of Western gardens – and for people across the country. We offer over 400 premium perennial varieties.

Choose Practical Low-Water Lawn Alternatives For Turf Areas

It’s time to ditch traditional thirsty turf grass. For areas where you want a durable space to walk and play, grasses can be a great solution, but it’s important to prioritize low-growing, drought-tolerant alternatives to water-intenstive Kentucky Blue Grass and other turf-type grasses. This will save you time and money, as a result of reduced watering, and thanks to less mowing – or no mowing at all.

High Country Gardens specializes in low-water, low-maintenance lawn alternatives.

Learn more about our Sustainable Lawn Solutions

If you have areas of your lawn with little foot traffic, replace your lawn with groundcovers that never need mowing. Herbaceous and woody groundcovers are excellent low-maintenance, low-water lawn alternatives. These work especially well on hillsides, along walkways, and in areas where you'd like to see more color and texture.

Start With Healthy Living Soil

The key to any successful xeriscape is healthy living soil. When planting a garden at a new home, where the topsoil has been removed or badly damaged by disturbance and compaction, living soil must be started from scratch. On established sites with good soil, soil health simply needs to be maintained.

Tips for improving soil health:

  • Add organic matter to the soil at planting time in the form of compost and/or organic fertilizers.
  • Inoculat new transplants with beneficial mycorrhizal root organisms.
  • Continue to fertilize and regularly with compost and organic fertilizers. This supports a healthy microbial population needed in the soil to break down organic materials and release nutrients to the plants.
  • Avoid the use of synthetic insecticides and fungicides on the soil, which would harm the soil's web of life.

Irrigate Efficiently & Harvest Water

For new transplants, even xeric plants, regular watering during the first growing season is essential to grow a strong, deep root system. But, you don’t want to water too much and stress young plants.

By watering deeply, for longer periods of time, and allowing water to soak deep into the ground, you will encourage plants to grow deep root systems; this helps them become more resilient and drought tolerant in the long run.

Frequent, shallow watering means that roots will be shallow too, lending to them being too hot and dry. Watering deeply in the first season when soil is dry, and as needed in long stretches of drought for established plants, will save water in the long run when you have established waterwise plants. 

For mature plants, in general, if you are growing plants that are suited to your average precipitation level, you will need to water very little. That's one of the best advantages of waterwise gardening! However, there are several factors to be considered - your climate, your soil conditions, the plants' water needs, and how much precipitation has been occurring naturally. Plants may need supplemental water in dry spells

Here are tips for efficient watering:

  • Use soaker hoses and drip irrigation to apply water directly to the root zone, rather than allowing water to run off your yard or evaporate from sprinklers.
  • Know your growing conditions, and adjust your water according to only water as needed. Well-drained soils will need a different watering schedule than heavy clay soils, and gardens in full sun will need different watering schedules than gardens in shade.
  • When growing trees and shrubs. move drip emitters further away from the trunk to apply water at the drip line.
  • Keep your irrigation systems tuned and maintained at the start of each season to avoid leaks.

Practicing Water Harvesting

  • If legal in your state, use rain barrels and cisterns to capture and hold water that drains off roofs or gutters.
  • Harvesting water from roofs, sidewalks, driveways, and other hard surfaces and directing it onto your landscape to be stored in the soil is a very practical way of supplementing irrigation water from your well or faucet. 
  • Harvested water is especially useful for irrigating shade trees, which need infrequent irrigation once established.

Practice Sustainable Gardening Care & Maintenance

The benefit of following the principles above for a well-planned xeriscape is that it will naturally be a low-maintenance garden.

As you maintain your garden for years to come, it is essential to use organic products and techniques whenever possible. This is the best method to create a balanced, healthy landscape that can sustain itself, and thrive in harmony with the environment.

Examples of sustainable xeriscape maintenance techniques include the following:

  • Avoid the lush, thirsty plant growth that results from over-fertilizing with harsh chemical fertilizers; use organic composts and fertilizers applied in the fall instead.
  • Don't cut back your perennials in the fall. Wait until early to mid-spring of the following year to improve winter cold hardiness of the plants and provide shelter for beneficial insects to over-winter.
  • Avoid using herbicides or pesticides, to give pollinators in your yard the best chance of survival. 
  • Plant a wide variety of plants, including native perennials, to encourage a healthy, balanced population of beneficial insects in your yard as a precaution against harmful pests.

Mulching is an essential sustainable gardening technique in arid regions, especially in the Western US. By covering the soil's surface with some type of mulch, you will:

  • Help retain valuable soil moisture by shading the soil from the hot sun,
  • Save water and irrigate established plants less frequently.
  • Capture rainwater and reduce runoff by allowing hard rains to soak into the soil, instead of running off into the street and drainage areas.
  • Reduce weed growth.
  • Add organic matter to the soil gradually, improving the soil from the top down.
  • Moderate soil temperatures for more optimum root growth conditions.
waterwise garden

Explore Our Palette Of Waterwise Perennials

Beyond the dazzling garden designs, our waterwise plants contribute to a robust ecosystem where people, plants, and wildlife thrive.