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Xeriscaping or Smart Landscaping is the movement to minimize the need for irrigation in the regions where fresh water or excessive water is not accessible. Many temperate, tropical, and sub-tropical plants have very low water requirements, ideal for xeriscaping. This environmentally friendly gardening method is gaining importance in other regions where fresh water is available, but access to fresh water is becoming limited.

Table of Contents

The Principles of Xeriscaping:

The principles of xeriscaping are to conserve water and plant waste, promote biodiversity, and decrease reliance on fertilizers and pesticides. 

Map Out your Landscape Essentials: 

Choosing the proper plant for the environment is the most important aspect of your xeriscaping plan. You should create an overall base plan, laying out the micro-climates in your yard and their soil and sun exposures. Once you have the base map of your yard or planting area, you can get more specific and layout stylized planting concepts for each location. While it will be tempting to specify some plants that may not be ideal for the climate to add diversity or color at a particular time of the year, don’t be tempted into this shortcut. Always plan your plants to match the environment you are planting them in. This will minimize the amount of input from us in the form of water or chemicals. Try to choose the most environmentally friendly and broad-leaved plants to contribute maximum oxygen production and pollutant removal. (Mandă & Salahoru, 2018)

Soil Improvement:

It is advisable for both native and non-native plants to amend the soil with compost and or manure. One to two inches of manure/compost mixed well in the upper six inches of the soil will improve the fertility of the soil and give the new plants a good start. It will also increase the soil’s water-holding capacity and cation exchange capacity. It is not necessary to only grow native plants; well-suited non-native plants can also be used to help promote biodiversity.

Systematic Irrigation:

It is always best to plant so that your property doesn’t require any irrigation. This is, without a doubt, the goal to strive for. But, if you do need to irrigate and you just can’t break away from the need to have some specific plants that will not otherwise grow, do so sparingly to limit the amount of water used. Drip and soaker irrigation are a much more conservative approach than broadcast sprinklers that blast water into the air just to have it evaporate.

Key Irrigation Ideas:

  • Deep and intermittent watering only when absolutely necessary will promote stronger, deeper root systems that are more drought tolerant.
  • Irrigate after sundown to avoid water loss through evaporation.
  • Don’t plant turf grass if it will need to be watered more than a few times a season. If you need to water more than that, choose a different plant.

Plant Zones Grouping:

Grouping together the plants having similar light, moisture, and soil requirements is always wise. For example, shade-loving, low-growing shrubs should be placed in the shade of trees and far from the hoses, while the bright light and heavy irrigation demanding plants can be planted in the open sun near the hoses. 

A Xeriscape with flowering annuals in beds, trees in the corners, shrubs along the boundary, and limited turf along the walkways will give the impression of an organized, attractive, ecologically sound landscape. This design filled with well chosen plants for our climate will result in a fabulous, easy-to-maintain landscape.

Benefits of Mulching:

  • Water conservation
  • Soil moisture retention
  • Keeping roots cool
  • Preventing soil crusting
  • Discouraging weed growth
  • Adding nutrients to the soil as mulches decompose

Mulches may be Organic and Inorganic. 

Organic mulches include wheat straw, bark chips, chopped leaves, decomposed kitchen waste, paper, compost, pine needles, and sawdust. These are added in the upper 2-4 inches of soil.

 Inorganic mulches include plastic/synthetic landscape fabrics (let water through but help retain moisture), rubber chips, rock, etc.

Turf Alternatives:

Regular mowing and continuous regeneration are the necessities of turfgrasses, and that is why they need more nutrients and water than any other plant type. Xeriscapers recommend limiting the turfgrass area as much as possible or not establishing turf at all. Native grasses consume less water than non-native varieties. 

Maintenance of a Xeriscape:

Plants do not speak and depend on the grower for their everyday needs. The best care of your plants can be to simply keep an eye on them, and they will tell you if they are suffering and need your help. You don’t need to check a maintenance chart to know when a plant is getting too much sun or needs more or less water, and it is really pretty intuitive. 

Xeriscape Plants:

Planting trees and perennial shrubs is a long-term investment, so selecting your plants with your local climate in mind is advisable. What may be considered a xeriscape plant in one part of the world may not last a week in your neighborhood. Do your research and always lean toward the hardiest plants you can find for your area.

Catalpha speciosa (Bait Tree):

  • A fast-growing, deciduous plant tolerant of high ph levels is native to North America and an excellent hardwood.
  • It has white flowers with yellow strips and purple spots inside, green-colored leaves.

Celtis occidentalis (Common Hackberry): 

  • The upper side of the leaf is bright green, and the lower side is pale green.
  • Has greenish flowers.
  • A deciduous, shade-loving plant tolerant of a wide range of alkaline and acidic soils.

Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffee-tree):

  • Greenish-white foliage
  • A popular US street tree, used as an indicator of calcareous soils, tolerant to drought and poor soil.

Robinia pseudoacacia (Black Locust):

  • Creamy white and sometimes pink or purple, dark-blue green leaves are scented.
  • Fast-growing, spreading, shade-intolerant tree thrives best in dry soils. 

Acer tatricum (Tatar maple):

  • It has reddish foliage in fall and creamy white flowers.
  • Deciduous and spreading, it can be raised as a bush or small height tree.
  • It is often grown as an ornamental tree throughout the US and Europe.
  • Well suited to dry, alkaline soils.

Quercus gambelii (Gambel Oak, White oak):

  • Deep green-colored leaves turn orange-yellow in autumn.
  • Drought tolerant needs richer soils and rapidly re-establishes itself from the root sprouts, a food source for animals browsing.

Cupressus arizonica (Arizona Cypress):

  • Greyish-green to Bluish-green foliage
  • Evergreen, beautiful ornamental cone-shaped canopy, resistant to cypress canker disease.

Atriplex canescens (Saltbush):

  • Greenish, gray-yellow foliage
  • Tolerant to alkaline soils
  • Native to the Western US with an upright spreading habit.

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry):

  • Deciduous plant with pale yellow flowers in spring, tenacious berries, and deep red/purple leaves in autumn.
  • Very thorny and hard to work with.

Caryopteris clandolensis (Blue-Beard, Blue-Mist-Spirea or Dark Night):

  • Blue, Purple, Violet flowers attract bees.
  • Aromatic foliage
  • It prefers bright sunlight and neutral-acidic soil

Fendlera rupicola (False Mock-Orange/Cliff Fendler bush):

  • Creamy-white, Fragrant flowers
  • Deciduous, glossy foliage
  • Tolerant of semi-arid conditions.

Holodiscus dumosus (Rock spiraea):

  • Pinkish-white to creamy-white flowers
  • Deciduous, aromatic leaves
  • Survives in dry habitats, moist-cool mountain forests, and shady locations.

Dasiphora fruticosa (Cinquefoil):

  • White, Pale-to-bright yellow, orange-reddish flowers
  • Thrives in well-drained rocky areas
  • Low-maintenance and hardy plant.

Rubus deliciosus (Snowy bramble, Boulder raspberry):

  • White, Fragrant blooms in May-June
  • Native to the US belongs to the rose family.
  • Deciduous while flowering stems are perennial, prefer full sun, propagated by cuttings in early spring

Shepherdia argentea (Silver buffalo-berry):

  • Pale-yellow, no petals flower
  • Food for mule-deer and sharp-tailed-grouse
  • Has dye and medicinal values
  • Tolerates drought, poor soil, full sun, and acidic/basic/neutral soils

Xeriscaping in Action

Metropolitan Phoenix is one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities in the US. As a result, the urban heat island (UHI) of this city was significant. Low-water demand, x xerophytic trees with large, spreading canopies were planted in the city, residential yards, road-sides on a large scale to reduce the thermal discomfort. Compared to existing circumstances, a 2.5 degree Celsius decrease in temperature had been noticed. (Ch w & Brazel, 2012) 

The Path to a Healthier Planet

People of the US and other European countries really seem to appreciate the green of a traditional turfgrass lawn. They consider dark green lawns and garden beds filled with color to symbolize prosperity. It has, of course, become so since it takes a good deal of free time and extra resources to maintain such a display.

In areas of the world that get ample rainfall and have rich soils, such a display can be almost effortless if the correct plants are planted. These areas and the world benefit from the air cleaning and heat-absorbing properties of the lushly planted gardens and lawns.

These spots where native plants grow lush and full are not the trouble spots. The areas of the world that are not suited to grow lush, green, and colorful plants are the areas that will benefit most from xeriscaping. In these areas where humans have been irrigating and fertilizing for generations to keep up the lush appearance, it would be much better served with xeriscaping.

We need to stop fighting mother nature and instead take her lead and follow obediently. If your plants aren’t growing where you planted them, it is not nature’s fault; it is your fault for planting a plant that is not well suited for its environment. If we would only learn to choose the correct plants for our environment, we could all live on a healthier, easier-to-maintained, naturally balanced planet.


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