Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 7, Issue 5
   August 2012
   Water-Smart Xeriscape Gardening
Alpine planterAlpine planter
An alpine planter by garden designer Tunde Fehervari

The term xeriscaping stems from the Greek word xeros, meaning dry. It refers to water-wise, drought-tolerant gardening. While the term may be relatively new, the concept is not. Gardening on the dry side has deep roots in desert and Mediterranean areas, where heat and drought are common and water is viewed with reverence, a resource not to be abused. In less arid regions, such as where I live (Canadian hardiness zone 6, American zone 5), many rock, cottage, coastal and country gardeners have experience with this type of gardening.

The Plan
Opting for a xeriscape garden is often a response to particular site conditions, such as fast-draining soils, steep slopes, courtyards that reflect light and heat, exposure to strong winds, and tree roots that deplete soil moisture. Rural property owners may face additional concerns over lowered water tables and the consequences of overwatering on their wells and ponds. Accordingly, when planning the xeriscape garden, evaluate the complexities of your property and the influence of soils, winds, topography, microclimates and exposure.

Start by preparing a detailed audit of your property's site conditions and water-retention characteristics for inclusion in your scaled-base plan (see "Features of Great Garden Design"). Identify natural and fabricated features. If, for example, roof drains and their outlets discharge onto a paved driveway, sidewalk, or window well, valuable water is being lost. (A solution is to install rain barrels to collect the water.) Perhaps your yard slopes steeply, sending rainwater to a nearby ravine and leaving your property high and dry. An inventory of existing vegetation will also help identify wet and dry areas. Your property might lack hedges, fences and walls that lessen wind velocities, or your house may have broad roof soffits and cantilevers that keep the areas below dry. As part of the audit, take soil samples from various locations and have them analyzed to ascertain their type and drainage characteristics. This will also help you identify where amendments, such as organic material and compost, could improve the soil's moisture retention; minor grading changes may also help combat water loss.

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