Xeriscaping—a term for water-smart landscaping coined by Colorado’s own Denver Water in 1981—is an oft-misunderstood concept. Here, we clear up five common misconceptions with Mike Bone, associate director of horticulture at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and Alison Peck, owner and principal of Matrix Gardens.
Myth One: Xeriscaping requires zero water use.
Truth: While some xeriscapes may require no added water, some may use more. “It’s about getting water to plants when they actually need it,” Bone says, “not because there’s a clock or timer that says they need it.”
Myth Two: It’s all or nothing: Your yard is either water-friendly or it’s not.
Truth: “We do a lot of landscapes where the overall water use is very low, but we’ll create an oasis [of more water-dependent plants] in one area,” Peck says. “Because honestly, people want to be in a green space when they’re outside. It’s OK to have one part of the yard that’s high water use and [another] part that’s low water.”
Myth Three: Xeriscaping is mainly for modern, minimalist homes.
Truth: “‘Xeriscape’ doesn’t imply a particular style,” Peck says. “We’ve done xeriscape in a formal Victorian garden.”
Myth Four: You should never have to water for more than a few minutes per day if you’ve xeriscaped.
Truth: For new plantings, watering three times per week is a good starting point (the duration will depend upon the season and your drip system; consult the nursery or your landscaper). After a couple of months, you should move to a schedule of less frequent waterings, but use longer watering periods each time, in order to saturate to the root (rock mulches, commonly used in xeriscapes, allow for water movement). Take visual cues from your plants, and test the soil for moisture (dig two inches down for an accurate assessment). And know your plants: “Native southwestern plants, for example, don’t want chocolate-cake soil,” Peck says. (Translation: Plants from dry climates don’t like damp and spongy soil.)
Myth Five: Your yard will be full of cacti, rocks, and dust.
Truth: A xeriscaped yard can be full of colorful, fragrant plants, flowers, and shrubs—vibrant in appearance despite their minimal water requirements—with nary a tumbleweed in sight.
Drought-Tolerant Varieties for a Vibrant Xeriscape Garden:
Serviceberry and fruit trees, penstemons, hellebores, catmint, ornamental oregano, culinary sage, Lydia broom, native ornamental grasses (little blue stem, switchgrass, big blue stem)