Xeriscaping – or drought-tolerant, low-maintenance landscaping (“xeri-” = “dry”) – is becoming increasingly popular in the Okanagan. Drought-tolerant planting is an appropriate choice for our increasingly hot and dry climate, its low water-use is economical as water costs increase, and its low
For most of North America, over 50% of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscape can reduce landscape water use by 50 – 75%.
Apart from occasional pruning and weeding, maintenance is minimal. Watering requirements are low, and can be met with low-cost drip irrigation systems.
Improves Property Value
A good Xeriscape can raise property values and more than offset the cost of installation. Protect your landscaping investment by drought-proofing it.
Fossil fuel consumption from gas mowers is minimized or eliminated with minimal turf areas.
Provides Wildlife Habitat
Use of native plants, shrubs, and trees offer a familiar and varied habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
The 7 Principles of Xeriscaping
1. Proper planning & design
Since the fundamental element of Xeriscape design is water conservation, your landscape designer will look for ways to optimize the natural features of your property to the reduce the amount of applied water that will be required. The more we can work with, rather than against, nature, the more efficient your xeriscape will be and the lower your watering costs.
Areas of sun and shade will result in different ‘microclimates’ on your property, each with differing water needs. Your designer will group plants with similar watering needs for most efficient water use. Effective mulching over the soil and plant roots can also turn a moderate water-use zone into a low water-use zone.
Factors such as elevation, exposure to wind, and the presence of non-human ‘visitors’ (like deer) to your property must also be taken into account in order to determine the best plants and design for your garden areas. The good news is that many common xeriscape plants and shrubs are also very hardy and deer-resistant.
Larger plantings, such as shrubs and trees, can be positioned to provide natural heating and cooling opportunities. Shade cast by trees or structures can cool the landscape by as much as 10 degrees, reducing heat buildup and water evaporation from the soil. Shade also reduces heat buildup from hard surfaces, such as driveways, walks and walls. Trellises, arbors, walls, or fences can also provide shade or scatter light.
Your designer will work with you to determine the planned use of each area on your property. Areas for seating, walkways, visual barriers, dining, or play will be defined and incorporated into your plan. Moderate water-use zones, such as turf areas, can be either eliminated or limited to only highly visible or functional areas, such as front entrances or recreational lawn areas.
2. Soil Improvement
The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape does two things simultaneously: it drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This is achieved by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil and keeping it well aerated. Compost is the ideal organic additive, unless your xeriscape contains many succulents. These species prefer lean soil.
It may be worthwhile to have your soil tested by your landscaper or by using a home test kit. Most Western soils tend to be alkaline (high pH) and low in phosphorous. Adding bone meal or other high-phosphorus fertilizers will help.
3. Limiting Turf Areas
Xeriscaping seeks to reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible, possibly retaining some turf for open space, recreation, or visual appeal. When planting new turf or seeding existing lawns, consider water-saving species adapted to your area.
4. Appropriate Planting
For best results, select drought-resistant plants. Make sure that they are hardy enough for our local climate. The Okanagan is zone 5b, but depending on your specific area and elevation, that number could drop by one or two zones (e.g. the Joe Rich area) or go up a zone (e.g. Kelowna city centre).
In general, drought-resistant plants tend to have leaves that are small, thick, glossy, silver-grey, or fuzzy – all characteristics which help them save water. A few examples of great xeriscaping plants that thrive in the Okanagan are Lavender, Russian Sage, Knick-Knick, and Barberry. These also have the advantage of being deer-resistant – which can be very important here!
Select plants for their ultimate size. This reduces pruning maintenance.
For hot, dry areas with south and west exposure, use plants that need only a minimum of water. Along north and east-facing slopes and walls, choose plants that like more moisture. Most importantly, don’t mix plants with high- and low-watering needs in the same planting area.
Trees help to reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading the soil.
Cover the soil’s surface around plants with a mulch. Mulch is a protective covering spread on the ground that can serve a number of useful purposes, including reducing evaporation, maintaining an even soil temperature, preventing erosion, controlling weeds, and enriching the soil.
Mulch can be organic (e.g. Nature’s Gold, Ogogrow, and fir or cedar bark mulch) or a decorative landscape rock (e.g. pea gravel, river rock, or broken rock). Organic mulch will slowly decompose into the soil and will need to be reapplied occasionally. To be effective, any type of mulch needs to be at least several inches thick. There should be no areas of bare soil. If soil enrichment is the goal, organic mulch must be used and landscape fabric should not be put under the mulch, as this will prevent it from mixing with the soil.
Note: due to increasing dryness and the threat of wildfires in the Okanagan, the use of bark mulch may not be appropriate in some areas – particularly where yards interface with forest or wooded areas. If fire hazard is a concern, rock mulch may be preferable.
6. Efficient Irrigation
Water conservation is the goal of xeriscaping, so avoid overwatering. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering for xeriscapes because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant. This reduces moisture loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it’s best to water deeply and less frequently.
7. Xeriscape Maintenance
Low-maintenance requirements are one of the benefits of xeriscape. Keeping the weeds from growing up through the mulch does require some attention. Thickening the layer of mulch will help. Turf areas should not be cut too short – taller grass is a natural mulch which shades the roots and helps retain moisture. Avoid overfertilizing, as this stresses plants and can weaken root structure.
MCG Landscaping is your xeriscaping specialist! Contact us today to discuss a show-stopping xeriscape transformation for your property!