What is xeriscaping and how to achieve it in a garden?

Xeriscaped low-maintenance garden in Palm Springs with different kind of cacti
ARTICLE Clare Chapman

Xeriscaping is a concept that was initially cultivated in areas which are susceptible to drought and those with limited access to water for irrigation. It’s an age-old concept but one that is quickly gaining in popularity the world over in line with a widespread desire to conserve resources. It’s a landscaping style that is coming into its own. Perhaps the most striking stylistic aspect of xeriscaping though, is its lack of a cohesive aesthetic. In order for xeriscaping to be successful, planting has to be carefully considered in terms of climate and site-specific conditions. “In New Zealand, for example, that could mean you might see xeriscaping in central Otago which is dominated by native grasses, while in the North Island, cacti may be the prevailing feature,” the Tauranga-based Zones Landscape Architect says.

Xeriscapes are landscapes that require no water, irrigation or ongoing maintenance. “In xeriscapes, plants are planted with the particular aim of allowing them to be what they will be without interference,” the landscape architect says. That means they are carefully spaced in order to allow them to grow to their full size, and to take away the need for trimming or pruning over time. It also means plants are either native or accustomed to certain climatic conditions, which will differ wildly between areas and sites.

How do I create character in a xeriscape?

One of the most common stylistic inferences xeriscaping retains the world over is a lack of lawns. Lawns require continued maintenance, something that is at odds with the overarching concept of the xeriscape, and they also require irrigation in times of drought. Lawns, though, are a central part of most landscapes – when they are removed, it is often the case that areas are harder to define within the overall landscape. “It’s for this reason that many xeriscapes incorporate structures to define spaces,” the landscape architect says. “Often, you’ll see xeriscapes incorporating a lot of timber, stone or rock. Hedging is another commonly used aspect of traditional landscaping that is at odds with xeriscaping and so structures work to define and create different areas of a xeriscape and at the same time inject character into the garden.”

xeriscaped garden full of different kind of cacti

How do I create a successful xeriscape?

Aside from the right plant choice, draining is a central aspect of a successful xeriscape. Without adequate draining, a xeriscape will often not work. Generally, areas that receive full sun are the best, as well as choosing the right landscaping materials – those which are permeable and allow water to easily drain. “That’s why you often see a lot of gravel and stone gardens in xeriscaping as they allow for easy drainage and are maintenance free,” the landscape architect says. “They also create a real character in the garden.“

Creating a successful xeriscape needs input from a landscaping professional to get the balance right. The main things are drainage, sun, permeability and plant choice. Plant placement is also important to allow each plant to grow to its true size without intervention. “While stones and gravel are good for mulching in a xeriscape, they also add a different texture to the mix.”

Can edible plants be used in a xeriscape?

Generally, vegetable gardens require a lot of water and maintenance to ensure they flourish, and for these reasons they often don’t fit within the broader concept of a xeriscape. Fruiting trees, on the other hand, can sometimes be left relatively unattended, requiring little in terms of maintenance or water. “Many fruiting trees need additional care only during their establishment phase. Once they are more mature, many types of fruit-bearing trees work well within a xeriscape,” the landscape architect says.

Citrus varieties as well as olive trees are some of the most hardy and known for their ability to thrive without intervention in New Zealand, and depending on the site and part of the country, citrus and olives are perhaps the best choices if you’re considering integrating edibles into a xeriscape.

Is it more expensive to create a xeriscape than a more traditional garden?

Because xeriscaping is synonymous with a lack of lawn and hedging, it is often the case that more planting is needed at the outset. It can also be the case that higher quantities of stone and other materials as well as structures to create definition between areas. “While it can be that the initial cost of creating a xeriscape is higher for these reasons, the ongoing cost is much lower,” the landscape architect says. “That’s because the planting requires no intervention, watering or irrigation and doesn’t require trimming or any other regular maintenance so, over time, the cost of xeriscaping is much lower than creating a traditional garden.”

You might be interested in reading this: Tropical gardens

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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