Xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes that reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. This means that xeriscaped landscapes can survive on very little water beyond what their natural climate provides.
Xeriscaping has been embraced in much of the dry regions of the Southwestern US. Lengthy droughts have caused water to be regarded as an expensive and limited resource. Denver, Colorado's Municipal Water Utility was one of the first agencies to support xeriscaping, eventually pioneering and coining the term 'xeriscape.' Their program encouraged residents to use less drinkable water for their lawns and gardens.
Xeriscaping has become widely popular in El Paso and Las Cruces due to its environmental and financial benefits. The most substantial environmental aspect of xeriscaping is selecting appropriate vegetation for the climate. Vegetation that prospers with little-to-no added irrigation is considered 'drought-tolerant.' Xeriscaping often includes replacing turf lawns with soil, rocks, mulch, and drought-tolerant native plant species. Trees such as Desert Willows and flowers such as Yellow Bells are examples of native drought-tolerant plants in our region. Plants that have especially adapted to arid climates are called Xerophytes. In Desert areas like El Paso and Las Cruces, xeriscaping allows us to plant native xerophytes such as ocotillo.
Benefits of Xeriscaping
Xeriscaping can reduce water usage on average 60% and in some cases up to 75%. This saves drinkable water, as well as reduces your water bill. It has been estimated that houses that choose xeriscaping save 120 gallons of water per day.
Another large component of xeriscaping is designing and installing efficient irrigation systems. Drip systems and soaker hoses that direct water directly at the base of each plant and prevent the water evaporation that sprinklers allow are used. Increased efficiency is achieved when types of plants with similar water needs are grouped together. A xeriscaped landscape also requires less maintenance than a landscape with grass and water-thirsty plants.
The most common example of a drought-tolerant plant is the cactus, which has hundreds of different species that are native to North and South America. Cacti have developed physical adaptations that save water. For example, their prickly spines protect them from water-seeking wildlife. Their large, round stems thicken over time to store larger amounts of water. Waxy skin prevents water loss due to evaporation.
However, cacti are far from the only plants appropriate for xeriscaping. Other drought-resistant plants include agave, juniper, lavender, and more. Many herbs and spices are favorites for xeriscaping, such as thyme, sage, or oregano.