Xeriscape Principles

(Excerpted from " The Enchanted Xeriscape " , a brochure of the NM Office of the State Engineer)

1. Planning and Design A beautiful xeriscape starts with a good design. The physical characteristics of the site should be considered and so should your needs and your aesthetic preferences. For example, here are a few of the considerations:
       * Sun - What portions of the property receive hot afternoon sun? What portions receive morning sun and afternoon shade? The amount and time of sun will affect the types of plants you choose.
       * Function - Do you need an outdoor living area? If so, consider expanding the patio area with additional shade structures and low-water-use trees to provide privacy.
      * Views - Are there views you want to protect or screen? Know the mature size of the plants you select to ensure the views and screening you desire.
      * Time - How much time do you plan to spend maintaining your landscape? If you'd rather enjoy your yard than work in it, choose low-maintenance plants.
A well-planned design enables you to convert to water-wise landscaping quickly or to install your xeriscape in phases. Whether you create your own design or call upon a landscape design professional, a properly designed xeriscape can help meet your lifestyle needs.

2. Soil Improvements To enable your soil to better absorb water, you may need to add soil amendments before you plant. The water-retention abilities of most New Mexican soil is improved with the addition of organic matter. If you're landscaping with native plants, however, soil amendments may not be necessary. Some well-adapted xeric plants prefer not to have too rich a soil. For these plants, doing as little as loosening the soil is all the soil preparation you´ll need.

3. Appropriate Turf Areas Let's face it, Kentucky bluegrass isn't native to New Mexico. While the statewide average is 13 inches of rain per year, Kentucky bluegrass requires 40 inches or more to stay green and healthy. The difference in moisture must come from irrigation - lots of irrigation. That's why it's important for New Mexicans to rethink lawns. Instead of using a lawn to cover large areas, choose your lawn size and type to fit your family's needs. Drought-tolerant grasses such as buffalo grass and blue grama grass may be substituted for water-thirsty bluegrass in many situations. Consider reducing the size of your lawn and planting water-wise groundcovers and shrubs instead.

4. Low Water-Use Plants Whenever possible, choose native and low-water-use plants. A delightful variety of water-wise plants can grow in all of New Mexico's climatic regions. Some are perfect for adding year-round greenery and texture; others are great for adding seasonal color. Xeriscaping uses the concept or "zoning". By grouping plants with similar water needs together in specific "zones, your landscape can use water more efficiently. Low-water-use plants should be grouped together, away from the high-water plants and turf. Take advantage of warm or cool "microclimates" (the actual climatic conditions around your property which can be influenced by the placement of walls and shade trees) to create areas of interest and diversity.

5. Efficient Irrigation A well-planned and well-maintained irrigation system can significantly reduce a traditional landscape's water use. For the most efficient use of water, irrigate turf areas separately from other plantings. Other irrigation zones should be designed so low-water-use plants receive only the water they require. Proper irrigation choices can also save water. Turf lawns are best watered by sprinklers. Trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcovers can be watered efficiently with low-volume drip emitters, sprayers and bubblers.

6. Mulching Mulches cover the soil and minimize evaporation, cool the soil, reduce week growth and slow erosion. Mulches can also provide landscape interest and offer protective cover until plants mature. Organic mulches - including bark chips, wood grindings, and composted cotton burrs - are commonly used in planting beds. Inorganic mulches, such as gravel and decomposed granite, can be used to add texture and color under trees and around shrubs. (By the way, don't use plastic underneath rock or bark. It prevents the soil from breathing and encourages shallow plant roots.)

7. Proper Maintenance Although most successful xeriscapes are low maintenance, they aren't no maintenance. Keeping your xeriscape beautiful and water thrifty through a program of well-timed mowing, fertilizing, pruning, pest control and weeding will ensure that your landscape will develop beautifully. To ensure continued water savings, keep irrigation systems properly adjusted. Properly maintained, a well-planned xeric landscape requires even less work as it matures - leaving you more time to enjoy your garden.

Obtain the full brochure here: The Enchanted Xeriscape