7 Principles of Xeriscape
1. Good Landscape Planning and Design
Creating a plan will help you get the most out of your landscape while considering issues like cost, function, aesthetic preferences, maintenance requirements, water efficiency and energy efficiency. You can tailor the plan to suit your taste, your needs and your checkbook. The plan will serve as a guide throughout the landscaping process. It will help you stay focused and can help to avoid time consuming and costly mistakes. When developing a plan, think long-term. You may decide to complete your landscape all at once or in stages. Regardless of your approach, take the time to develop a complete plan for your yard.

2. Low Water Use Plants
There are hundreds of water thrifty native or desert adapted plant species available at local nurseries. Some varieties have been available for many years, while others are new on the market. They come in all shapes and sizes and serve a variety of purposes from shade to seasonal color to screening unsightly areas. Many low water use plants have beautiful flowers or interesting forms. They will help you create a colorful, low-maintenance yard without taxing our limited water resources.

3. Appropriate Turf Areas
Although turf generally requires more water and more maintenance than low water use plants, sometimes only grass will do, especially if you are sports-minded or if there are children or pets at home. Small turf areas can be incorporated successfully into a Xeriscape if they are properly planned, installed and maintained.

4. Efficient Irrigation
In the Sonoran Desert, almost all new plants should be watered regularly to get them established; and most plants, low water use or not, need some kind of irrigation even after they become mature. The trick is to find out how much water your plants require and to apply only that much. When you design your irrigation system, try to put trees, shrubs, groundcovers and turf areas each on different valves so you can time their irrigations separately. Most plants will need more frequent irrigations during their first year. Usually, you can cut back on watering during the second and subsequent years, after the plants have become established. Also remember that plants need less water during the cooler months. Adjust your irrigation schedule at least four times each year.

5. Soil Improvements
Most low water use plants thrive naturally in our desert soils, so amendments such as fertilizers and soil supplements are usually not necessary. They do prefer good drainage, and soil should be loosened at planting time to encourage healthy root growth. Soil amendments most likely will be needed for turf areas and areas where more water thirsty plants are installed. Because there is quite a variation in soil quality and composition across the Sonoran Desert, soil amendments may be needed when unusual conditions exist. For more information about your specific soil type and about the possible need for soil improvements, contact your County Cooperative Extension office.

6. Use of Mulches
Mulches cover the soil and reduce evaporation from planted areas. They cool the soil beneath and also help to inhibit weed growth and erosion. There are organic mulches and inorganic mulches. The most popular organic mulches in our area are bark chips and wood grindings. These are often used in planting beds and other small areas. The natural drop of leaves, flowers and fruit can also be left on the ground as mulch. Decomposed granite and crushed rock are two of the most popular inorganic mulches.

7. Appropriate Maintenance
When properly designed and maintained, Xeriscapes save water, time and money through reduced plant water needs and lower maintenance requirements. But low water use and low maintenance do not mean no water use and no maintenance. All landscapes need some care and most plants need supplemental water in our desert environment. Proper pruning techniques can keep your yard beautiful and natural looking and save you trips to the landfill. A well-maintained irrigation system can keep plants healthy and water use low. Prudent use of fertilizers will help to avoid excessive plant growth which, in turn, will reduce water use and the need for excessive pruning.

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Additional Resources:
Converting to XeriscapePrinciples of Xeriscape
Xeriscape is not ZeroscapeLandscape Plants for the Arizona Desert
Landscape Watering By the Numbers

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