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Xeriscaping - What it does and doesn't mean

Focus pages editor

The use of natural vegetation from the surrounding desert makes this Price home look interesting and is very water efficient.

While the idea of Xeriscaping is nothing new, it is something that people have only taken up world wide in the last decade.

The actual term, Xeriscaping comes from the word xeric which means adapted to or pertaining to a dry environment.

Some people call it zeroscaping or xeroscaping, thinking that the word means zero plants or few plants or zero water use. That is just one of the many fallacies that people have about this type of landscaping.

Xeriscaping, which as a word, is a registered trademark of the National Xeriscape Council of Austin, Texas which is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to water conservation. The word however was actually created by a woman named Nancy Leavitt, an environmental planner for Denver Water in 1982. The NXC describes the term as meaning "water conservation through creative landscaping."

But while that basically describes it that doesn't mean it has to be exactly dry either, and even in a climate where things are extremely dry, it doesn't mean it has to be sparse. Actually it can be colorful, and even lush at times, in limited areas. A true xeriscape can have highly watered areas, but that is still consistent with wise water use.

Xeriscape is also not just rocks, gravel, blocks or cement. Plants and other growth is included in the true xeric design. What it really means in it's purest form is no added water for the growth; that it only survives on natural moisture. Limited forms of watering can also be used in controlled locations.

Xeriscapes can also include lawn, but not acres or large areas of it. The average American yard has a great deal of lawn that is not used for much except beauty, while those same areas could be rock or natural plants that require much less water and just as beautiful.

In addition, xeriscape is not necessarily native plants. When some people think of xeriscape in this area, they think that one can only plant Rabbit Brush, Sage and a few flowers like Indian Paint Brush. In actuality, non-invasive plants that are adapted to the regional climate can also be used. For instance, think of the spring flowers that grow from bulbs in the spring. Few people actually water tulips and daffodils to get them to grow and yet every year they come up in spectacular fashion all through the Castle Country area. These plants are not even from this continent, yet flourish in the high cold desert climate all by themselves. Other kinds of adapted plants that grow during the spring and summer can do the same.

It would also seem that the ultimate xeriscape would be pure concrete or black top; no water use at all. What xeriscape is, is the adaption of low water landscapes for beauty and utility in any area where they are planning and implemented.

In the past there has been some question as to whether residents of Carbon County, particularly in Price can actually xeriscape their yards. Price's land use development and management code actually states "Whenever a front yard is required, such yard shall be planted and maintained in lawn and shrubbery, except for walks and driveways." However according the city's planning and zoning department, that regulation will be changed to include xeriscaping later this year.

During the 1980's the traditional ideas about water began to change in the United States. In time, almost everyone has come to realize that water is a precious and limited resource, besides the fact that plants that consume less water are also easier on the household budget as well.

This home utilizes a combination of gravel, ground cover and trees to layout this corner lot in the coves. 

When people think of xeriscaping they often only think of it's use in the desert, but in actuality, residents of the prairies, in both Canada and the United States have been using it literally forever. With no realistic way to irrigate land from high water ways that run out of the hills, like in the mountain west, they have always had to put in plants and grasses that exist based on the natural moisture. The principles those in the prairies have used for centuries can also be utilized in the desert: good planning and design, soil improvement, effective irrigation systems, small and useful lawn areas, proper use of mulches and ground covering and ease of maintenance.

Xeriscape planning is important in a number of ways. To begin with like plants are grouped with other like plants during the planning procedure and installation. For instance plants that have like water needs are usually grouped together near the house or structure they are surrounding. This grouping is called a mini-oasis. In this way little water is wasted and the installation of irrigation systems can be kept to a minimum, thereby reducing cost as well.

Design of the configuration of the yard is important. The design of a xeriscape yard depends on four factors.

•The sun. Which parts of the yard get the hot afternoon sun. The amount of sun any certain area receives will affect the type of plants that should be placed there.

•The use of the yard or particular area. If the owner desires an outdoor living area possibly the patio area could be expanded surrounded by low water use type trees.

•The views from or of the yard. Most people either want to keep a view or protect others from seeing in. The plant selection should reflect these desires.

•The time it takes to maintain the landscape. Depending on how much an owner likes yard work, the types of plants selected can either be mainly trouble free or those that require heavy maintenance.

Another feature of xeriscaping is grading and terracing. The small plant areas are graded properly so most of the water goes into the soil for the plants and there is little runoff. Plants that need the most water are placed in positions where they will benefit from increased soil water content. Most beds are at ground level, because raised beds dry out much more quickly.

Because often planted areas within xeriscapes are much smaller, more attention can be paid to the soils that actually affect their growth and that provide the life giving moisture. Both clay and sandy soils can be improved for water retention and even for percolation. Sandy soils drain more readily and are easy to work, but they also don't hold water as well. Clay can hold a great deal of water, but the oxygen content is often low, particularly when very wet. Poor drainage can be a very big problem.

Both soil types can be improved by increasing their content of organic matter, as in adding manure or peat moss. One of the best things about xeriscaping is that with the small growing areas needed, natural soil can be brought up to standard with much less work and money than it would take to create that same kind of soil environment for traditional lawns and flowers.

Xeriscaping is a definite plus during a drought period, such as the county is experiencing now. It is a viable alternative for Castle Valley residents when planned and installed correctly.

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