Xeriscape Design

Steps to Designing a Drought-resistant Garden


Though using drought tolerant plants is one of the primary principles of this specialized garden, it's not the only one. You may want to create a special spot that needs more shade and water so you can have some of your favorite plants that aren't categorized as xeriscape.

Cropped - SW Adobe with grass H 5559Here's a great example of some xeriscaping adorning this beautiful South-West adobe

Well-designed xeriscape gardens are not only beautiful but are also environmentally appropriate for areas having limited rainfall or frequently subject to drought conditions. The arid West is where xeriscape gardens first achieved popularity, but their fame and practicality is now spreading to other parts of the country.

Perhaps the most important principle in any garden design is determining what your needs are in the landscape. Observe what is currently present at your site in terms of rocks and trees. Decide what affects your landscape such as wind, solar aspect, and topography. Having a good feel from the start for what your garden site can support helps avoid expensive mistakes that must later be remedied. Also, don't forget to consider how much time you have to maintain the landscape once it's completed.

The underlying success to any garden, including a xeric one, is soil. In the West, our soil is nearly always deficient in organic matter. The addition of compost improves the structure of soil, facilitates aeration, and increases water-holding capacity. It is also a good idea to have your soil tested so you can determine exactly what nutrients might be lacking. Use organic soil amendments, as opposed to chemically derived fertilizers, so you build the soil at the same time you provide nutrients to your plants.

Having a good feel from the start for what your garden site can support helps avoid expensive mistakes that must later be remedied.

After installing your hardscape features, planting trees and shrubs and preparing the soil, you're then ready to start selecting perennials for your beds. Pay particular attention to hardiness zones and the cultural needs of the plants. The cultural needs include soil or sun requirements and anything else that's particular to a specific plant.

Try to make sure that any perennials planted in the same bed have similar cultural needs.

When designing a perennial bed, it is usually best to have multiples of each variety. A bed with one each of 12 different varieties will not be as pleasing as a bed that has three each of four species.

Cropped - Vegetable + Flower gardens Du RosierXeriscape Perennial Garden

An exception to this is a plant that gets to be very large. At six feet tall and four feet wide, a single Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe' is usually enough for most perennial beds. However, a long row of Helianthus against a fence can be stunning.

Plant height is one of the more obvious characteristics to guide the placement of plants in a flowerbed. Generally, place tall plants toward the back and groundcovers in the front. Color is another design element. When selecting color, try to stick with three color ranges per bed, excluding that of the foliage.

The last design consideration is plant foliage. Variation in size, color, and leaf shape creates a lot of textural interest. Perhaps you've seen a garden that consists solely of plants with white blooms, and yet you found it very intriguing. More than the white blooms, the creative use of foliage was probably what piqued your attention.

After flowerbeds, next comes the perennial border. Again, first choose plants that you like and group them in ways that create pleasing variations in height. Pair plants with complimentary or contrasting colors, and select plants with different types of foliage. There is no standard way to design with perennials. But no doubt if the plants you choose for your garden are pleasing to you, then you'll probably have a design that is attractive to others too.

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