Howell & VanCuren

601 South Lewis Avenue
Tulsa, OK 74104
(918) 592-1270

Xeriscaping Makes Sense

Xeriscape is a term that applies to landscapes that are low-maintenance and sustainable over a long term. Often it is misunderstood to mean “zero” or no landscape. Maybe a sparse, desert-like setting comes to mind. Actually, a xeriscape can appear to be a traditional landscape, but will save time, money and water.

Plants are selected for a xeriscape based on their ability to grow and thrive with minimal watering and maintenance. Normal levels of watering during the first year establishment period are required since new plantings don’t have sufficiently developed root systems to survive without supplemental watering.

Native plants, which are certainly worthy of consideration, are not essential for a landscape to be a xeriscape. Introduced plants that thrive under the local conditions can be a part of the plant palette.

Plants suitable for a xeriscape range widely across the State of Oklahoma with the list of plants for the eastern part of the state being longer than that for the western areas. However, attractive, tough plants that thrive in dry climates are available for all areas of the state.

Lawns are perfectly acceptable as long as they don’t require supplemental water to survive and can go dormant in times of drought. Bermudagrass would provide such a lawn in large areas of the state. Buffalograss would be an excellent alternative in the west. Fescue or other cool season grasses would not likely subsist without annual re-seeding, except in shady areas in the eastern part of the state.

The range of plants suitable for xeriscaping in Oklahoma is so broad that it’s easier to give examples of plants that don’t typically thrive as xeriscape plants in this state. Azaleas, fescue lawns, bluegrass lawns, most maples (except for the eastern part of the state), and beeches are generalized examples of plants not well suited for Xeriscapes in our state.

So don’t be misled. A xeriscape can be beautiful and save precious resources to boot. 

What is Native Landscaping?

Native plants are those that have evolved and adapted to the geography, hydrology, and climate of a region. The goal of native landscaping is to create a plant "community." In a natural system, each plant occupies a specific niche. The diversity of the native landscape preserves naturally occurring genetic material and provides better resistance to disease. Furthermore, plants native to a specific region tend to be more robust because they have adapted to the local soil, conditions, and weather patterns. Native plants have long roots which retain stormwater, reducing runoff. Planting natives increases biodiversity. Designing a drainage and irrigation system to minimize water usage is a key factor in the project's success. Incorporate rainwater and storm runoff into the landscape. Runoff from a nearby parking lot for example could be captured in tree wells, or a roof collection system may divert runoff to a stream bed below, which can be used to irrigate plants. Storm drains also provide supplemental irrigation, and in some spots, may provide the only irrigation to the landscape.


How Can Native Landscaping be Used?

Maintenance practices for manicured turf landscapes negatively effects the environment. Spending one hour mowing (gas) a lawn is equivalent to driving a car 20 miles. Based upon elimination of mowing, blowing and trimming for an acre of turf grass, there is a calculated emission reduction of about 100 lbs VOC/acre/year and 10 lbs NOx/acre/year. These emission estimates were based upon going from mowing, blowing and trimming 30 times per year to 0 times per year. Pesticides and fertilizers applied to lawns run off and pollute surface and ground water. 

Native plants provide a beautiful, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance landscape while benefiting the environment. Native plants, once established, save time and money by eliminating or significantly reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides, water and lawn maintenance equipment.


What is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping uses slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce yard trimmings. Additionally, xeriscaping is a landscaping and gardening process that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental irrigation.

How To- Seven Principles of Xeriscaping:

  1. Planning and Design - The fundamental element of Xeriscape design is water conservation. Landscape designers constantly look for ways to reduce the amount of applied water and to maximize the use of natural precipitation.?Before setting pencil to paper, familiarize yourself with the Seven Principles of Xeriscaping and take a tour of your local nurseries to see what drought-resistant plantings are available locally. Using graph paper, draw an aerial view of your property and begin your plan. Orient the plot by marking down north, south, east and west. Include any limiting features such as trees, fences, walkways or structures. Note areas of sun and shade, which will help you establish zones of differing water needs. You'll want to group plants with similar watering needs for most efficient water use. Study the natural contours and drainage patterns of the land. These contours can be easily developed into terraces, which add visual interest and help reduce soil loss and erosion due to rain or irrigation. Terraces can be as little as 3" and still offer visual appeal; terraces over 12" will require considerable support, such as rock walls or timbers reinforced with steel stakes. Consider the planned use of each area within the plot. Areas for seating, walkways, visual barriers, dining or play should be defined and incorporated into your plan. Areas to be left as turf should be designed to be easily mowed. Curved swaths are usually better than straight runs with sharp turns. Narrow swaths can be difficult to water with conventional sprinklers. Larger plantings, such as shrubs and trees, can be positioned to provide natural heating and cooling opportunities for adjacent buildings.
  2. Soil Improvement - The ideal soil in a water-conserving landscape does two things simultaneously: it drains quickly and stores water at the same time. This is achieved by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil and keeping it well aerated. Compost is the ideal organic additive, unless your xeriscape contains many succulents and cacti. These species prefer lean soil. It may be worthwhile to have your soil tested at a garden center or by using a home test kit. Most Western soils tend to be alkaline (high pH) and low in phosphorous. Adding bonemeal and rock phosphate will help.
  3. Create Limited Turf Areas - Reduce the size of turf areas as much as possible, while retaining some turf for open space, functionality and visual appeal. When planting new turf, or reseeding existing lawns, ask at your garden center for water-saving species adapted to your area.
  4. Use Appropriate Plants - For best results, select plants that are native to your region. Use drought-resistant plants. In general, these plants have leaves which are small, thick, glossy, silver-grey or fuzzy - all characteristics which help them save water. Select plants for their ultimate size. This reduces pruning maintenance. For hot, dry areas with south and west exposure, use plants which need only a minimum of water. Along north and east-facing slopes and walls, choose plants that like more moisture. Most importantly, don't mix plants with high- and low-watering needs in the same planting area. Trees help to reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading the soil.
  5. Mulch Cover - The soil's surface around plants with a mulch, such as leaves, coarse compost, pine needles, wood chips, bark or gravel. Mulch helps retain soil moisture and temperature, prevent erosion and block out competing weeds. Organic mulch will slowly incorporate with the soil, and will need more applied, "top-dressed", from time to time. To be effective, mulch needs to be several inches thick. There should be no areas of bare soil.
  6. Irrigate - Water Conservation is the goal, so avoid overwatering. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems offer the easiest and most efficient watering for xeriscapes because they deliver water directly to the base of the plant. This reduces moisture loss from evaporation. They also deliver the water at a slow rate which encourages root absorption and reduces pooling and erosion. In general, it's best to water deeply and less frequently.
  7. Maintain your Landscape - Low-maintenance is one of the benefits of xeriscape. Keeping the weeds from growing up through the mulch may require some attention. Thickening the layer of mulch will help. Turf areas should not be cut too short - taller grass is a natural mulch which shades the roots and helps retain moisture. Avoid over fertilizing.