A couple of decades ago, nobody would have believed that having a lush garden with a green lawn, hedges, flowers and trees, could be considered a waste of precious resources. Today, however, when clean water is in scarce supply the world over, and we are all facing the possibility of further water shortages as the years go by -- gardens and lawns maintained purely for their ornamental value may become a thing of the past.
Arid landscaping, or xeriscaping (from the Greek word xeros , meaning dry), is an eco-friendly alternative to conventional gardening. It integrates practicality and beauty in drought-prone public and private gardens, with the minimal use of water. Xeriscaping is part of a larger trend among environmentalist gardeners to incorporate native rather than imported species within local ecosystems.
Fundamentals of Xeriscaping or Arid Landscaping
- Plan and design for water conservation and beauty from the start.
- Create practical turf areas of manageable sizes, shapes, and appropriate grasses.
- Select low water plants and group plants of similar water needs together. Then experiment to determine how much and how often to water the plants.
- Use soil amendments like Compost or manure as needed by the site and the type of plants used.
- Use mulches such as woodchips to reduce evaporation & to keep the soil cool.
- Irrigate efficientlywith properly designed systems (including hose-end equipment) and by applying the right amount of water at the right time. Use Drip irrigation systems to conserve water. Instead of planting a lawn, try using stone slabs with grass growing between them. Cover soil with straw, pebbles or moss to prevent it from drying out too fast.
- Maintain the landscape properly by mowing, weeding, pruning and fertilizing at regular intervels.
Plants That Survive Tough Dry Conditions
Drought tolerant plants are an essential part of water conserving landscapes. They are adapted to water-scarce environments and therefore require minimal supplemental irrigation. They also require less maintenance than their water-needy counterparts.
There are many water conserving plants from various regions of the world. Contrary to popular belief, they are not confined to cacti and succulents, but also include a wide variety of beautiful trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and ground covers. Many have outstanding characteristics that include distinctive flowers, fruits, and leaf texture.  
Warning: Many of the plants suitable for dry landscaping are non-edible unless otherwise mentioned (such as the fruits of fig and olive trees, and the leaves of rosemary). Many plants contain toxins and ingesting them can result in adverse health effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. Young children are often tempted to eat parts of plants, especially brightly colored berries. Therefore, make sure to inform them about the possible harmful effects of ingesting non-edible plants.
Ideals for Outdoor Water Use
Current drought conditions and diminishing water reserves make the need for serious water conservation efforts increasingly imperative. Here are some tenets to follow --
- Grass only for functional, physical use -- for example, use grass in children’s play areas, parks, ball fields and golf courses, but not in gardens.
- No lawns just for looks -- do not use lawns to beautify commercial landscapes,
medians, curb strips or steep slopes
- Water grass in large turf facilities only with reclaimed or renewable supplies of water.
- Use only those types of turf that require less watering, like Bermuda,
Buffalograss and Paspalum.
- Let mother nature be the primary irrigator.
- Irrigate only to establish plants: no longer than three years.
- Supplemental hand watering during times of prolonged drought.
- Irrigation system timers/clock set to manual only.
- Use Drip irrigation systems to save water.
Choice of plants
- Go native -- use local species which require minimal irrigation
- Refer to the Official Low Water Use Plant List for Pima County - category 1 and 2 plants.
Benefits of Xeriscaping
- It saves water. In North America, over 50% of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscaping can reduce landscape water use by 50 - 75%.
- Creates low maintenance landscapes that require no labour aside from occasional pruning and weeding.
- Low water requirements
- Requires no fertilizers or pesticides. Using plants native to your area will eliminate the need for chemical supplements. Sufficient nutrients are provided by healthy organic soil.
- It improves property value. A good Xeriscape can raise property values which more than offset the cost of installation. Protect your landscaping investment by drought-proofing it.
- It is pollution free. Fossil fuel consumption from gas mowers is minimized or eliminated with minimal turf areas. Small turf areas can be maintained with a reel mower.
- It provides a viable wildlife habitat. Use of native plants, shrubs and trees offer a familiar and varied habitat for local wildlife.
- Creative landscaping