Xeriscapes: More Than Just Water Conservation

By Brianna van de Wijngaard, Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society –

Lawns are funny: they are high-maintenance, water-intensive, and not all that great to look at, really. But the pursuit persists, and we spend a lot of time and resources on this landscape because it is not actually suitable for our climate at all.

Committing to a xeriscape garden takes some time and financial investment, but the outcome will be absolutely worth it. Photo: flickr.com by keepingtime_ca

Let’s look at the upkeep requirements of an average lawn. Let’s assume it’s 3,000 square feet. It takes approximately 2.36 litres to water one square foot of turf, one inch deep. Kentucky bluegrass (one of the most common lawn grass varieties in North America) is not drought-resistant. It requires at least two inches of water per week during the dry season to survive. This means approximately 4.72 litres for every square foot, totalling 14,160 litres for a 3,000-square-foot lawn every week during the dry months. In the Cariboo, that is the month of August at minimum. Almost 60,000 litres of water.

Now let’s add the maintenance. We want our lawns green, but not unruly, and this means mowing. The more we water, the more we have to mow. At an average of 40 minutes to mow a 3,000-square-foot lawn means 2.7 hours each month when irrigating or with spring rains and increased growth, because you’ll have to mow every week. This doesn’t include any maintenance for weed suppression, fertilizing, etc.

A much more suitable and low-maintenance option for our yard spaces are xeriscaped gardens. At first, it can seem daunting to do because, yes, it does take some planning. But after you have designed, executed, and established a xeriscape garden, it will mostly take care of itself, and be absolutely beautiful to look at. And it doesn’t mean getting rid of your lawn completely: turf can be a part of xeriscaping, but it will be much lower maintenance than an all-turf landscape because the xeriscape design chooses appropriate varieties and helps to conserve moisture. This is what xeriscaping is all about: not only will it beautify your landscape; it will also require a fraction of the irrigation of a conventional lawn while remaining lush and healthy.

A designed xeriscape garden can also increase the value of your home significantly: 5.5-12.7 per cent more, on average, compared to a home with no landscaping. Unlike other interior improvements that can either go out of style or break down over time, landscaping increases in value as plants mature and beautify your home more every year. You will save water and get to enjoy your beautiful garden, and it will pay off if you ever decide to sell.

Xeriscape can be broken down into two parts: ‘xeros’ meaning dry and ‘scape’ as in landscape, and it consists of seven principles to be kept in mind when you are developing your garden:

1. Planning & design
2. Soil improvement
3. Vegetation
4. Turf areas
5. Irrigation
6. Mulch
7. Maintenance

The first step is planning and design. One could certainly invest a lot of time in this process, but it can also be relatively simple. At minimum, however, there needs to be a plan. Start by making a list of plants you would like to incorporate that are drought-hardy or resistant. The Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society has a handy brochure you can use to easily pick your plant list. Our Water Wise Plant Guide (available for free on our website: https://www.ccconserv.org/water-wise) lists over 130 plants suitable for our climate, broken down into trees, shrubs, ground covers, grasses, perennials, and annuals. We have also broken down each plant’s water needs, so you can easily plan the maintenance requirements and irrigation system for your garden. But keeping it simple will be much less overwhelming. Consider planting more of a few varieties rather than the other way around, to keep your plant list a little shorter. Lastly, our regional nurseries can help you break down your list even further into plants they have available, and they are a great resource in deciding what to plant, when, and where.

Next, you will need to measure out the lawn area you are converting, sketch it to scale, and plot out which plants will go where. For this, you will need to know the growth habits of the plants you have chosen: how big will a purple coneflower or staghorn sumac get, for example? Ensure they have enough space from each other and are arranged according to their mature size. This can be a fun and creative process.

The design process will incorporate the other six steps, and once that’s done, you can start the transformation. It is true that committing to a xeriscape garden will take some time and financial investment, but the outcome will be absolutely worth it.

If you need help figuring out where to start, or advice along the way in your xeriscape planning process, give us a shout. We will help you as much as we can in converting your lawn to a Water Wise oasis!

Brianna van de Wijngaard is the community liaison for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society in Williams Lake, BC, working on various Water and Waste Wise-related projects and events in the community. Visit https://www.ccconserv.org to learn more about our education programs or community projects.

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