The first steps to establishing your own xeriscape gardens

Now that you know what you can plant for a xeriscaped (drought tolerant) garden it is time to prepare the garden. Here are the seven principles that xeriscaping is based on and can easily be adapted to any type of garden.


Planning and Design

Planning is key, as you need to assess your specific property and figure out where the sun is throughout the day and where you are going to place your garden. The design should group low-water-use plants in one area and if you chose to use higher water-use vegetation they must be paced in another area. Remember to arrange plants according to their full growth size and light requirements too. Good planning prevents heartbreak down the road and is the key to success.


Soil Improvement

Soil conditions are critical to the success of a xeriscape as it must provide support, air, water and nutrients to the plants or they will be weakened. Texture, organic content, pH, drainage, salinity and fertility are the important characteristics of soil that should be considered before planting anything. Most drought-resistant plants need good drainage. Check your soil’s drainage before you plant. Dig a test planting hole and fill it with water. If it drains quickly then you need to improve the soil by adding organic matter help absorb and retain more water. Soil improvement steps may include using adding peat moss, manure or compost to improve moisture retention, sand to increase drainage and applying fertilizer carefully to promote strong root growth.


Appropriate Plant Selection

Plants must suit the climatic and microclimate conditions, intended function, soil characteristics and the intended water use at the planting site. Look for the drought-resistant trees, shrubs, perennials, ground cover, grasses and vines that were mentioned in the previous column. Perennials generally demand less water, fertilizer and pesticide than annuals. Keep in mind that even though a plant is labelled drought-resistant, it is important to provide adequate water until it is well established during its first year after planting.


Practical Turf Areas

Conserve significant amounts of water by reducing the size of the lawn. Consider switching to drought-tolerant turf grasses or use perennial groundcovers or areas of mulch instead of a lawn. Eliminate grass in narrow strips and unusable areas by planting shrubs or ground cover.


Efficient Irrigation

Efficient irrigation means applying the amount of water that is required by a plant, when it is required, where it is required and with minimal wastage. In May as the plants begin to grow, you would not watering at the same frequency as you would in July when the weather is hot and dry. Usually watering once a week, is sufficient, even for grass, if the water is applied to the depth of the root zone. Water your garden in the morning or in late afternoon. Avoid watering at midday when the sun is hottest. Soaker hose can be installed as it is the most efficient and conservative form of watering, especially in a xeriscape garden. Water reaches the plants’ roots more slowly, is absorbed better and doesn’t evaporate as quickly as with a sprinkler. TIP: Harvesting or directing water from roofs, sidewalk, driveways and other hard surfaces and directing it onto your landscape to be stored in the soil is a very practical way of supplementing irrigation from your well or faucet



Mulches are applied to the soil surface to reduce evaporation and to lower plant use by moderating soil temperature. Wood chips or bark are best but you can also use rocks, straw, etc., as mulches. Mulch when applied properly (from previous columns) also deters weed growth.


Maintain Your Landscape and Garden Properly

Overwatering contributes to rapid, weak plant growth, fertilizer leaching, insect/disease problems and weed growth, all of which require maintenance. If water is efficiently applied in a garden and xeriscape principles are used, less maintenance will be required.

A well planned xeriscape garden planted with plants appropriately matched to your soil conditions and our climate will naturally be a low maintenance type of garden. When ever possible use organic products and techniques to create a balanced, healthy landscape in harmony with the environment. Now isn’t it nice to enjoy a great garden without too much work?