Watering, by hand, by sprinkler system, or by drip system, is meant to ensure that your plants have an ample reserve of water to draw upon when they need it. Since the soil acts as the water reservoir, you need to first consider the type of soil you have. 60%+ clay soil has the ability to hold water, but is inefficient at releasing it. Clay also dramatically inhibits root growth. Better water absorption/release, along with enhanced root development, can be achieved by incorporating organic matter. Refilling the soil’s water reservoir with two applications at least one hour apart rather than one continuous application also improves efficiency.
In 1926 a group proposed using xeric/zir-ik (from xeros, the Greek word for dry) as a generalized term for plants and animals. In 1986 the Denver Water Department introduced the term xeriscape/zir-i-scape with seven steps to help homeowners implement the program into their landscapes; principles that are used today as homeowners strive to create water-wise landscapes that require less maintenance and make better use of this valuable resource.
1. Planning and Design; Whether you are renovating an existing landscape or installing a new one, planning is a must. Many people create their own designs with excellent results. Shopping with a list of appropriate plants based on your design goals and website research will make the planting go more smoothly. Keep in mind that you can install your xeriscape in phases to minimize initial expense, trial plants and ideas, and make needed adjustments as you go along.
2. Soil Improvement; Incorporating organic matter like mulch and compost allows for better absorption of water and improves water-holding capacity of the soil. Soils that have organic matter also release beneficial nutrients to plants. It’s easier to improve soils prior to the installation of the irrigation system and plants.
3. Limit Turf Areas; Locate turf only where it can provide a functional benefit; for cooling near home, deck, and patio and as play areas for children. Keep turf watering zones separate from other landscape plantings that not only require less water, but that will do poorly with too much water. Turf can often be replaced with less water demanding plants like groundcovers or mulch.
4. Use Efficient Irrigation; Well-planned sprinkler systems can save water. Group landscape plantings according to similar water needs. Turf areas are best watered with sprinklers while trees, shrubs, and gardens can be watered with low-volume drip, spray, or bubbler systems. Maintenance and regular, seasonal adjustments need to be made to your sprinkler system. Programmable timers can be used at the faucet with hand-set sprinklers. Either way, make sure you apply only as much water as the soil can absorb to avoid wasteful runoff.
5. Use Mulches; Mulched gardens with trees, shrubs, and perennials are an ideal alternative to turf areas. Mulches cover and cool the soil, minimize evaporation, reduce weed growth, and slow erosion. Mulches are also aesthetically appealing. Organic mulches have the added benefit of feeding organisms that live in the soil to benefit plant growth.
6. Use Lower Water Demand Plants; Grouping xeric plants together has the added benefit of creating a landscape with plants that thrive and require less maintenance. Attractive native and adapted plants are genetically designed to do well despite hot, dry summers and prevailing winds. Trees require about 10 gallons of water per caliper/trunk diameter inch, twice a week, through summer. Gardens that include trees can be easily watered with soaker hoses.
7. Appropriate Maintenance; Gardening preserves the intended beauty of your landscape and saves water. Proper pruning, fertilization, pest control, irrigation system adjustments, and continued mulch applications all combine to provide the beauty of nature and the healthy activities that make us, and our plants, happy.
We all have areas that need attention and this step-by-step approach to a beginning, is a great start. Local artist, Kathryn Grider, was able to take a group of rough sketches that I had drawn up and turn them into artistic designs to inspire hopeful homeowners to transform bare areas of a landscape into gardens.
Trending away from needless, high-maintenance lawn areas (notice how the lawn area is sloped, sending water downward to the street) landscape designs are incorporating native and xeric plants that are both, environmentally sustainable and aesthetically pleasing.
The goals of a landscape design vary with the individual homeowner. The design may be intended to soften or reduce the intrusion of nearby hardscapes (roadways, neighboring building, parking area, etc.), accentuate a vista, or simply provide an extension of indoor living spaces. For me, it is the influence of all three. Since my husband and I do the physical labor ourselves, work on a limited time and financial budget, and because our home sits on an acre lot, we decided that working on the landscape in stages is the most practical way to develop our property. It is also the best way for us to thoughtfully plan out how each new landscape feature will blend with existing gardens and hardscapes providing continuity in the overall landscape. It can be professionally drawn up or roughly sketched, either way the the goals and intentions are to formulate a plant list so you will be shopping, and planting, with an overall plan in mind.
There are seven Xeriscape principles that make a low-maintenance, water-wise Northern Nevada landscape both attractive and attainable:
• Thoughtful planning for beauty and water conservation
• Improving/Amending the soil if needed
• Limiting turf areas
• Efficient irrigation; no more "set it, forget it"
• Mulching with organic products
• Select appropriate plants and group according to water needs
• Maintenance; proper weeding, pruning, and fertilizing.
Keep in mind that most trees and large landscape shrubs need 10 gallons of water each week through summer per 1 inch of trunk caliper. Ex: A tree with a four inch diameter trunk needs 40 gallons per week.