Xeriscape: Earth-Friendly Yards
The word "xeriscape" is derived from the Greek "xeros," meaning dry, and "scape," a kind of view or scene. Together, xeriscaping is landscaping with slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants to conserve water and establish a waste-efficient landscape.
Landscapes can be designed from the start to reduce the amount of resources needed to maintain them. By selecting the appropriate plants and efficient irrigation systems, a balance can be achieved to fit your aesthetic needs as well as reduce resource use. Benefits of xeriscaping include cost savings through lower water bills and a reduction in the labor needed to maintain your landscape.
In Florida, landscapes that are designed to conserve natural resources are called Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™. The Department of Environmental Protection has discontinued the use of xeriscaping in statute and adopted Florida Friendly Landscaping ™. The Florida-Friendly Landscaping ™ program targets homeowners, builders, developers, and commercial horticulture professionals. This program helps one to identify and use low-maintenance plants and environmentally sustainable management practices that ultimately will save time, money, and energy. This program is operated through the University of Florida’s Center for Landscape Conservation & Ecology. Using xeriscaping principals helps residential and commercial properties to become a Florida-Friendly yard; ultimately, these Florida-Friendly yards help urban environments to reduce their water and energy consumption, to reduce pollutants that enter waterways, and to conserve biodiversity..
There are six principles of Xeriscape:
1. Plan and design comprehensively: A good place to start is to map out your yard, noting sun exposure, topography, soil quality and existing vegetation. Evaluate soil and improve if necessary: Improving the soil can include fertilization, aeration and mixing in sand and compost. The goal is to maximize water penetration and retention.
2. Create practical turf areas: This is where grass comes in, but ideally you’ll use native grasses in multiple smaller areas. This enables you to water them more efficiently and reduce water use but still have a recreation area.
3. Use appropriate plants and group according to their water needs: The good news: most plants have a place in Xeriscape. Ideally, you’ll choose mostly low-water plants.
4. Water efficiently with properly designed irrigation systems: The irrigation system should be well planned and managed, with turf areas irrigated separately.
5. Use organic mulches: This is key to successful Xeriscape. Mulches minimize evaporation, reduce weed growth, slow erosion and soil compaction and help prevent soil temperature fluctuations. Mulch heavily.
6. Practice appropriate maintenance: Effective use of Xeriscape requires a commitment to appropriate pruning, weeding and fertilization, plus attention to the irrigation system.
Much of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water used in yards is never absorbed. Some water is lost to runoff by being applied too rapidly, and some water evaporates from exposed, unmulched soil; but the greatest waste of water is applying too much too often.
Xeriscape can decrease maintenance by as much as 50 percent, thanks to less mowing; yearly mulching; elimination of high-need, unadapted plants; and more efficient watering techniques. Xeriscape is not only an attractive landscape alternative, but one that is environmentally responsible as well.