by David Salman

Germander with Penstemon and Delosperma

The steps to plan and care for a low-maintenance, low-water xeriscape garden.

At High Country Gardens we pride ourselves on offering a wide selection of xeric perennials that can be used to create a low-water, eco-friendly garden. With drought conditions becoming more and more common in the Western United States, people are becoming more aware of how much water is used in their yard. It is possible to have a beautiful blooming garden without having a high water bill to maintain it. There is no need to "zeroscape" your yard, with xeric perennials it is easy to create a beautiful xeriscape.

Here is a guide to what it means at High Country Gardens to create a low-maintenance, low-water xeriscape garden.

Planning and Design

Whether you're starting from scratch, or renovating an existing landscape, take the time to plan out your design before you start to plant. Part of the planning process involves creating water use zones so you can allocate water usage where it will most directly contribute to the beauty and comfort of your home.

Creating water use zones in your garden can help create a water efficient landscape.Creating water use zones in your garden can help create a water efficient landscape.

There are three water use zones:

The Oasis Zone (zone 1) where the more water-intensive plants are used is the area up close to the house where the landscape is most visible and accessible to the home's interior and entry ways.

  • Use hardy garden perennials, non-xeric groundcovers, ornamental grasses, small ornamental trees, annuals, container gardens, water features.
  • Water harvesting from roof areas and hard surfaces is most easily done here.
  • Vegetable gardens are considered oasis plantings (but do not need to be located next to the house).

The Transition Zone (zone 2) where water-wise xeric plants are used in 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.

The Xeric Zone (zone 3), where only very xeric plants exist, is the outermost area along the property boundary and includes any out-of-the-way areas that are not used or seen much.

Note: Many homeowners who are not gardeners (and some who just prefer xeric plants opt to forego an oasis zone and bring the transitional zone right up to the house. This gives them the landscaped look they want while providing additional watering savings.

Veronica and Delosperma in xeric garden

Use Native Grasses for Turf Areas whenever possible

For optimum water savings use native grasses such as turf-type Buffalo Grass and Blue Grama grass (in the Western US). These are excellent drought-tolerant alternatives to thirsty Kentucky Blue Grass and other turf type grasses.

Only plant Kentucky Blue Grass or Fescue-type turf lawns in areas where heavy recreational use will occur. Herbaceous and woody groundcovers are an excellent low maintenance, low water lawn alternatives, especially on hillsides or when a less formal look is desired.

  1. Blue Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Hardy Plumbago

    Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates growing in both sun and shade and most soil types. Plumbago blooms in late su...

    Learn More
    Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma) Hardy Plumbago, Leadwort Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
    As low as $8.79 Sale $7.03
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates growing in both sun and shade and most soil types. Plumbago blooms in late summer with deep blue flowers followed by the foliage that turns burgundy red in fall.
    Learn More
  2. Nepeta faassenii Select Blue

    Nepeta 'Select Blue' (Select Blue Catmint) is a fantastic xeric perennial with dramatic lavender-blue flowers and handsome gray-green foliage. A recurrent bloomer, the first flush of...

    Learn More
    Select Blue Nepeta Select Blue Catmint Nepeta faassenii Select Blue
    As low as $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Nepeta 'Select Blue' (Select Blue Catmint) is a fantastic xeric perennial with dramatic lavender-blue flowers and handsome gray-green foliage. A recurrent bloomer, the first flush of flowers comes in late spring, and again later in summer. A long-lived, easily grown perennial, this is an excellent plant for beginners.
    Learn More
  3. Phenomenal Lavender Plant,  Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal field

    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high hu...

    Learn More
    Phenomenal Lavender Phenomenal Lavender Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal PP#24,193
    As low as $12.99 Sale $10.39
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high humidity. The plants grow into a beautiful mounded shape, with purple flowers on tall stems in mid-summer.
    Learn More
  4. Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires

    Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires (Blue Spires Russian Sage) is the best large growing Russian Sage selection blooming with dark blue flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. Though...

    Learn More
    Blue Spires Russian Sage Blue Spires Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires (Blue Spires Russian Sage) is the best large growing Russian Sage selection blooming with dark blue flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. Thought to be a hybrid of two species, this plant has amazing vigor and blooms for many months.
    Learn More

Use Plants Matched to Regional Conditions

Use plants that are a good match for your region's growing conditions. Both native and adapted (plants from other continents) need to be adapted to your soil pH, soil type, precipitation levels and weather (winter cold and summer heat).

Remember to match plants and microclimates; buildings, walls, topography and mature trees all create small areas with differing microclimates. Pick your plants accordingly.

  • Xeric plants should be used for hot, dry south and west facing areas.
  • Mesic plants (plants that prefer more moisture) should be used in moister areas along north and east facing slopes and walls.
  • Don't mix plants with high and low watering needs in the same planting area.
Groundcover with blooming garden

Create a Healthy, Living Soil

The key to any successful xeriscape is a healthy, living soil. When new homes have been built on sites where the top soil 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. This is accomplished by:

  • Adding organic matter to the soil at planting time in the form of compost and/or organic fertilizers.
  • Inoculating new transplants with beneficial mycorrhizal root organisms.
  • Continuing to fertilize (feed the soil) 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.
  • Avoiding the use of synthetic insecticides and fungicides on the soil that would harm the soil's web of life.

Use Mulches

Mulching is an essential 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 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 making for more optimum root growth conditions.
Use a native grass, such as Buffalo grass, as a great drought-tolerant alternative to Kentucky Blue Grass.Use a native grass, such as Buffalo grass, as a great drought-tolerant alternative to Kentucky Blue Grass.

Irrigate Efficiently

Water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth. Shallow, frequent irrigation encourages shallow root growth and thirsty plants. Use soaker hoses and drip irrigation to apply water directly to the root zone.

Know your soil type and understand how to best apply water to it. Sandy soils need different water schedules than clay soils.

As trees grow, move drip emitters further away from the trunk to apply water at the drip line.

Harvest Rain and Snow Run Off

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.

If legal in your state, use rain barrels and cisterns to capture and hold water draining off roofs to water potted container gardens and vegetable gardens.

Maintain Your Landscape and Garden Properly

A well-planned xeriscape planted with plants well matched to your region's conditions and climate will naturally be a low maintenance type of garden. When ever possible use organic products and techniques to create a balanced, healthy landscape in harmony with the environment.

Examples of some xeric 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.
  • Apply more mulch in the fall after fertilizing.
  • Don't prune your shrubs into unnaturally shaped boxes and balls as this creates continuous high-frequency work for years to come.
  • Keep your irrigation systems tuned and maintained at the start of each season.
  • 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.

© All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without Permission.

  1. Chrysothamnus nauseosus La Plata, Silver Leaf Rabbit Brush

    Silver Leaf Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus La Plata) is a showy native shrub that stands out in the landscape with its attractive, finely textured silver-gray foliage and eye-c...

    Learn More
    La Plata Silver Leaf Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus) La Plata Silver Leaf Rabbitbrush Chrysothamnus nauseosus La Plata
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Silver Leaf Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus La Plata) is a showy native shrub that stands out in the landscape with its attractive, finely textured silver-gray foliage and eye-catching display of golden-yellow flowers beginning in late summer-early fall.
    Learn More
  2. Hymenoxys hoopesii, Owl's Claws, Orange Sneezeweed, close up of  huge golden-yellow flowers

    Owl's Claw (Hymenoxys hoopesii) is a fabulous native mountain wildflower with huge golden-yellow flowers in summer. With its long, downward curving golden-yellow flower petals and ce...

    Learn More
    Owl's Claws (Hymenoxys) Owl's Claws, Orange Sneezeweed Hymenoxys hoopesii
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $9.99 Sale $7.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Owl's Claw (Hymenoxys hoopesii) is a fabulous native mountain wildflower with huge golden-yellow flowers in summer. With its long, downward curving golden-yellow flower petals and center cone, the graceful flowers are eye-catching. Highly attractive to many types of butterflies and bees, this durable perennial likes average to wet soil moisture and cool growing conditions, not for hot climates.
    Learn More
  3. Cardinal Penstemon Close Up of Red Tubular Blooms

    Cardinal Penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) is a rare, cold hardy wildflower from the southern mountains of New Mexico. Tall, impressive spikes of dark red flowers bloom in mid-summer,...

    Learn More
    Cardinal Penstemon Cardinal Beardtongue Penstemon cardinalis
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Cardinal Penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) is a rare, cold hardy wildflower from the southern mountains of New Mexico. Tall, impressive spikes of dark red flowers bloom in mid-summer, making this favorite source of natural nectar for hummingbirds. A must-have for your pollinator garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  4. New Snow Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea New Snow, Small white flowers on tall upright stems

    New Snow Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) has attractive silver-gray wooly foliage and clusters of tiny white flowers held on top of tall, upright stems. This native plant...

    Learn More
    New Snow Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis) New Snow Pearly Everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea New Snow
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    New Snow Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) has attractive silver-gray wooly foliage and clusters of tiny white flowers held on top of tall, upright stems. This native plant is highly attractive to butterflies. Resilient and easy to grow, it’s excellent for use in meadows and perennial pollinator-friendly gardens with dry, poor soil. Drought tolerant.
    Learn More