design-inspired urban farming

Xeriscaping: Add Beauty to Your Farm and Save the Water for Your Veggies!

Succulent Garden

Xeriscaping is the landscape design process using techniques that reduce the use of water and minimize supplemental irrigation.  Xeriscaping should not be confused with Zeroscaping, which is a slang term used to refer to landscape design using primarily hardscapes (concrete, pavers, gravel and boulders) that require zero water and irrigation.  Traditional xeriscaping does, in fact, use plants and does
require irrigation.

Xeriscaping is not typically a topic covered by most Urban Farming sites.  The reason we at Sow Swell are such big fans is because, with Xeriscaping, we know that our water use is primarily being channeled to our vegetable beds as opposed to requiring water use to irrigate ornamental plants and trees that do not provide food sources. Obviously, if you have a garden and are eating from your backyard, your carbon footprint is minimal.  However, vegetable gardens do require a significant amount of water.  That said, we like to use Xeriscaping as a method to landscape our farm in areas where we don’t have garden beds in place.  And the Xeriscape method allows us to infuse design into our farm that feels modern and is perfect for city living.

Many states and local city governmental agencies have rebate programs where they will pay you to convert your yard to more water-conscious landscapes.  Often times, you will need to apply for the rebate prior to installation, so be sure to do your homework before you apply.  Some states that have water-conservation rebate programs are below, but check to see what exists in your state:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Utah

The practice follows four key fundamentals:

1. Plants – The plants used in Xeriscaping are drought tolerant and native to your region.  Xeriscaping was born in the West and Southwest where water conservation is a way of life. Native plants will thrive

Add colorful accents and vary heights to add interest and dimension to your pathways and borders. Photo source: Design Sense Landscapers, San Diego; Martin Fletcher

Gravel and pavers break also provide visual value, while providing functional paths for walking. When adding gravel or pavers, it is important to use edgers to divide the landscape from the hardscape so lines stay clean and keeps plants from creeping into hardscape areas or shooting up unexpectedly in walk paths.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture; Los Osos, CA

and flourish in native soil and weather conditions.  Native plants that require little to no supplemental irrigation on the East Coast or the Pacific Northwest, where rainfall is frequent, may not survive in drier climates of Southern California or Arizona, for example.  It is important to understand which region you live in and whether Xeriscaping is an appropriate method within your own micro-climate. Select plants that require very little water.  Do some research before you get started. You may even find climates that are similar to your own and find regional plants from other areas that can add additional diversity, color and interest to your landscape.  For instance, we have plants that are native to South America and Africa that have similar climates to ours.

2. Irrigation – The best method for supplemental irrigation is drip irrigation with timers to provide a consistent water supply.  A drip irrigation system will always be more reliable than your own memory or the neighbor kid you’ve hired to come water your plants while you are away on vacation.  It’s simple to install and all the supplies can be purchased relatively inexpensively at Home Depot.  Drip irrigation also gives you the ability to control the amount of water you use.  You never want to overwater.  At Sow Swell, we use grey water to irrigate our Xeriscape landscapes.  Grey water is an irrigation method that diverts used water from sinks, showers and washing machines to then water plants and trees.  To be clear, you should not use Grey Water to irrigate vegetable garden beds.  Grey Water can be used to water fruit trees, but any vegetable or fruit being harvested directly from the ground, should not use Grey Water for irrigation.  Grey Water should not be confused with Black Water which is water from the toilet and should not be used to irrigate your yard.  We will post more on Grey Water in coming months, but it’s a process that can take as little time as  a weekend to set up, but can be a great solution to save on your water bill and reduce your
carbon footprint.

3. Soil – Good soil is important to any garden or landscape.  Remember, as with plants, you should also do your research in terms of what type of soil requirements are needed for your region.  Especially if you are planting in an area that hasn’t previously been amended or previously planted.  You many want to dig up and till  the area and add additional nutrients to the soil to give your new plants a great start.  Depending on where you live, you may need more nitrogen or you may require more acidity.  This can be easily determined by finding your region/planting zone online.  Always start amending your soil with nutrient-rich compost.  We create our own compost and use it in every garden and landscape project we start.  We’ll have a post dedicated to composting in the next few weeks. It’s a cheap and easy way to give your soil a kick in the pants.  Mulching is also a great way to help your plants retain moisture.  Mulch can be in the form of wood chips, pine needles, coffee grounds, dried leaves, etc.  Mulch often has chemical properties that can be beneficial to providing a good mix to your soil as well. Mulch will help your soil retain water. That said, it is best to water in the early morning of after the sun starts to go down to minimize evaporation.

4. Design – Last but most importantly, Xeriscaping allows for the opportunity to incorporate good design as you build your farm.  Whether you are creating a succulent garden in containers or if you are creating a backyard living room, Xeriscaping is one of the best methods to create a modern design aesthetic in the outdoors.  Drought-tolerant plants are very efficient, often with minimal flower and flare that typically require additional water.  That’s not to say they are devoid of any color, quite the contrary! Many succulents and ornamental grasses are very showy and can add lots of gorgeous color, shape and design with very low maintenance.

Next week, we’ll be posting tips on how to get rid of your lawn.  The Sow Swell Farm inherited a water-loving lawn, that while lush and beautiful, requires a significant amount of water, mowing and maintenance.  We’ll document our process as we slowly ditch our lawn and give you all the details here as we turn the space into an outdoor living space.  Come back and see our progress!

2 comments on “Xeriscaping: Add Beauty to Your Farm and Save the Water for Your Veggies!

  1. Pingback: Getting Rid of Your Lawn Inspiration « design-inspired urban farming

  2. Pingback: Ideas and Inspiration for a Modern Vegetable Garden « design-inspired urban farming

Sow, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on August 2, 2012 by in Xeriscaping and tagged , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: