In this regard, Norton points out that, "Once xeriscaping becomes an element of the community's identity, and citizens encourage a change in the tastes of their neighbors, a trend toward less water use and more native habitat might build on itself, providing increasing returns on a small investment. Investments such as this could pay increasing returns in lowering per capita demand for scarce resources and buffer the economy against shortages and rising prices" (2002: 265). Likewise, Vogel reports that because the technique can help to save water in all types of climates, xeriscaping has become increasingly popular in many regions of the United States.
In reality, xeriscaping is not a mysterious or difficult process, but it does require taking several principles into account that can help reduce water usage. First and foremost, the area to be xeriscaped must be regarded as an interrelated network of soil, plants and water. Despite the fact that xeriscaped literally means "dry vista," xeriscaping does not mean that a lawn will consist of just rocks and cacti (Vogel 24). According to this authority, "Drought tolerant and native plants are favored, but, in addition, zoning is used to group plants according to their water needs. A small high-water-use zone allows a place for those favorite plants that need extra water, but eliminates excess watering of plants that do not require it" (Vogel 24). There are seven general principles involved in xeriscaping as described in Table 1 below.
The seven principles of xeriscaping
1. Planning and design
Xeriscaping starts with a good design that will help ensure that the landscape remains water-efficient and retains its aesthetic appeal over time. The physical characteristics of the site to be landscaped are considered, as well as how the site will be used and the aesthetic preferences of its inhabitants.
2. Soil improvements
Creating a thriving landscape requires knowing the site's soil characteristics, the needs of specific plants, and when and how to amend the soil for water retention and plant nourishment. Soils are quite varied, ranging from almost pure sand to heavy clay. The water-holding capacity of most soils is improved with the addition of organic matter such as compost, peat moss and animal manure. When landscaping with native plants, however, soil amendments may not be necessary. Some well-adapted xeric plants prefer soil that is not too rich. For these plants, loosening the soil is all the preparation that is needed.
3. Efficient irrigation
Designing irrigation zones and choosing proper irrigation equipment are the two key factors in efficient irrigation. In xeriscaping, areas of the landscape are designated as low-, medium- and high-water-use zones. Appropriate plants are then chosen for each zone and are given only the water that they need. Selecting the right equipment ensures that water is not wasted. Lawns, which are high-water-use areas, are best watered with sprinklers. Trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers can be watered efficiently with low-volume drip emitters, sprayers and bubblers. Great strides arc currently being made in the technology of irrigation, including such innovations as underground drip systems that deliver water directly to the roots of plants and minimize water loss due to surface evaporation and runoff.
Using mulch materials to cover the soil conserves water by minimizing evaporation, while offering the added benefits of stabilizing soil temperature, reducing weed growth and slowing erosion. Mulches can add visual interest and offer protective covering until plants mature. Xeriscapers have a wide choice of organic mulches, such as bark chips, wood grindings and pecan shells. Inorganic mulches, such as river rock, granite gravel and landscape fabrics, are also used.
5. Appropriate turf areas
It is important to choose a size of lawn and species of grass to fit the specific needs of the site. Drought-tolerant grasses, such as buffalograss and blue grama grass, can be substituted for water-thirsty bluegrass in many situations. Reducing the size of a lawn to only the area needed and planting water-wise groundcovers and shrubs instead is a wise, water-efficient move.
6. Low-water-use plants
Whenever possible, native plants adapted to the climate of the region are chosen. These plants are as beautiful as any exotic ornamentals but require less watering. Plants with similar water needs are grouped into water-use zones in order to make watering more efficient. Plants are also matched to the microclimate of the site with consideration given to soil characteristics, sun exposure and water retention. Cooler microclimates created by walls and shade trees provide areas of interest and diversity.
7. Proper maintenance
Although most xeriscapes are low-maintenance, they are not no-maintenance. Keeping a xeriscape beautiful and water-thrifty requires a program of well-timed mowing, fertilizing, pruning, pest control and weeding. The use of native plants can minimize or eliminate the need for pesticides, as will nature's controls such as ladybugs which are used to control aphids. In addition, good soil amendments minimize the need for fertilizers and provide a longer-lasting solution then chemical amendments. To ensure water savings over time, irrigation equipment should be properly maintained, watering adjusted for time of year, leaks monitored, and established native plants watered only as needed.
Source: Vogel at 24
The research showed that the world's population continues to increase at alarming rates while the amount of water available for human consumption continues to decrease. The research also showed that Americans use more water than any other people in the world, with landscaping and lawn watering representing major uses. Fortunately, the research also showed that xeriscaping can be used to provide homeowners and businesses alike with a viable alternative to current practices and require less maintenance than traditional lawns, but xeriscaping is not maintenance free and there are some important considerations that need to be taken into account when using these techniques, including a regular maintenance program that is suitable for the types of plants that are used. In the final analysis, xeriscaping represents a valuable contribution to the conservation of water in the United States and consumers can also save money in the process.
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