Xeriscape gardening saves water

Tom Dominguez

All over Quay County and the eastern New Mexico plains, green lawns and gardens have been replaced with brown, yellow and crunchy plant material. As we enter one of the driest times with higher water costs as well as limited supplies, it’s time to rethink our efforts in keeping a lush lawn.

A colorful and lush yard is possible and within reach using xeriscape principles. The term xeriscape comes from the Greek word “xeri,” meaning dry. Xeriscape gardening uses native and adapted plants for a water-wise yard and garden.

When talking about xeriscape, or water-wise gardening, people often think of landscape rocks, yucca, cactus, concrete and other less attractive materials. However, that’s not at all you need to have and maintain a colorful yard.

For instance, desert willow is a small-to-medium-sized tree that blooms pretty pink flowers in the spring and carries green foliage throughout the growing season. Red yuccas often sport a red bloom at the tips of their stalks. Salvias and lantanas often come in many bright and vibrant colors and can withstand the hot and dry summers with little irrigation. These and many other plants can be found at this website, which has an almost endless list of plant material to match our climate and soil conditions: http://www.ose.state.nm.us/PDF/Publications/Brochures/htx_lo_res.pdf

Give the file a few minutes to download as it is fairly large.

In most cases, minimizing turf and adding xeriscape plants can save you about 30 to 40 percent on your water bill. Principles include reducing your grass areas by 25 percent and gradually replacing grass with water-wise plant material. Reducing grass areas also reduces the amount of work you have to spend on your yard.

Additionally, serious landscapers will install a drip irrigation system to further save on water and reduce water loss from practices such as overwatering, evaporation and runoff. When using sprinklers, you are susceptible to losing 30 percent of your water from evaporation and that figure increases on a windy day. Drip irrigation lets out enough water at the rate of percolation into the soil, as well as locating water at the root zone of the plant. There’s less waste and better distribution.

Even with drip irrigations, native plants require less watering than a lawn or non-native plants.

With a combination of xeriscape principles and drip irrigation, most homeowners can water once a week in the heat of the summer. If you insist on having non-native plants, try growing them from seed. Many times non-natives can adjust better when grown from seed in the conditions it will experience once as a seedling or adult. This also helps them avoid transplant shock.

In conclusion, watch and water your trees. In times like these they are a costly investment to lose.

Some guidelines of xeriscape include Limiting the size of your turf by proportioning your yard to have equal parts turf, native and adaptive plants and hardscape walkways or patio space. Use drip irrigation lines over the soil and under mulch and water for one to two hours once every few days. Amend your soil using organic compost made from your own kitchen scraps. Use mulch made of different grass, leaf and tree material to retain moisture. Raise non-native plants from seeds to help them adapt to the climate. Visit the website and other xeriscape demonstration gardens to view water-wise plants.

A few minor changes will go a long way in saving you money, as well as saving our state’s most valuable resource.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.