Not to be confused with zero-scaping, xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that reduces its need for irrigation beyond the water its natural climate can supply. A Greek derivative, xeros means “dry”, so its simple translation equals to “dry landscape”. It’s also known as water-conserving landscaping or drought-tolerant landscaping. But dry doesn’t have to mean boring and bland, a xeriscape can still be colorful and appealing when planned out thoughtfully!

Designing a xeriscape needs to consider several key components: minimal but effective irrigation, water efficient plants, native plants and supporting elements like artificial turf, mulch, rocks, gravel, stone, brick, wood, etc. Besides choosing specific flowers and plants that are drought-tolerant or require less watering, their placement within your landscaping is also important. Grouping and organizing plants near each other that require the same amount of water will make for easier irrigation mapping and less waste.

Unlike traditional style sprinklers that may only reach the surface of the plant and evaporate before penetrating its base, drip systems can be positioned directly where the plant needs water the most. Additionally, plants that need small amounts of hydration can sit at higher levels, while those that thirst for more should be planted in lower elevations where they can soak up excess water. Utilize mulch to give areas a clean look while also helping to retain moisture for its surrounding plants. Replace real lawn with artificial turf, or add hardscapes like stone, rocks, wood or gravel to round out the design and mix up the aesthetic.

Artificial turf can often get a bad rap for not only appearing fake, but for taking up space in our landfills when removed. Only you can decide which is right for your landscaping, but I will give you something to think about based on a 15-year lifecycle and a lawn size of 1,000 square feet. A living lawn will utilize 273,750 gallons of water over 15-years. You need to mow your lawn every week which requires a lawn mower and gas, this also creates emissions into the air and sooner or later that lawn mower will break down and end up in the landfill. You need to dispose of your lawn clippings, this is usually free but still takes up space and creates greenhouse gasses as it decomposes. When you start to compare the differences, artificial turf can look like a very “green” option.

Xeriscaping has grown in popularity over the last several years, especially in states like California that are prone to seasons of drought. Its benefits are bountiful, but its obvious advantage is water preservation. It has been estimated that switching to a xeriscape can lower your water usage by over 50%. Saving on water will also save you money and time. Santa Cruz water rates are projected to increase over time, so getting ahead of the next drought is a great idea. Xeriscaping requires much less maintenance and native plants are less likely to need pesticides or added fertilization. After all, plants that are placed in their native environment should need less human assistance than plants from another climate.

So which plants are best for xeriscaping? Well, that depends on your particular climate, and more specifically within the sub-climates of Santa Cruz county. A good rule of thumb is to look for those that require lower amounts of water and are known to be drought tolerant. A few choices that tend to work well for us here in Santa Cruz include lavender, juniper, agave, ornamental grasses such as juncus, seaside daisy (erigeron), yarrow, cactus and the ever-popular succulent. Even several herbs like sage, thyme and oregano can be great additions to your xeriscaping garden.

Xeriscaping isn’t just for desert regions; it can be a financial and economical solution for anyone looking to upgrade their landscaping and wanting to save on time, money and water!