Xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. This means xeriscaped landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides.

Xeriscaping has been embraced in dry regions of the western United States. Prolonged droughts have led water to be regarded as a limited and expensive resource. Denver, Colorado, was one of the first urban areas to support xeriscaping. That citys water department encouraged residents to use less of the city's drinkable water for their lawns and gardens.

Xeriscaping has become widely popular in some areas because of its environmental and financial benefits. The most important environmental aspect of xeriscaping is choosing vegetation that is appropriate for the climate. Vegetation that thrives with little added irrigation is called drought-tolerant vegetation. Xeriscaping often means replacing grassy lawns with soil, rocks, mulch, and drought-tolerant native plant species. Trees such as myrtles and flowers such as daffodils are drought-tolerant plants.

Plants that have especially adapted to arid climates are called xerophytes. In desert areas like Phoenix, Arizona, xeriscaping allows gardeners to plant native xerophytes such as ocotillo.

Supporters of xeriscaping say it can reduce water use by 50 or 75 percent. This saves water and money. In Novato, California, residents were offered conservation incentives (reductions in their water bills) to convert from traditional lawns to xeriscaping. The citys water department estimated that the houses that chose xeriscaping saved 120 gallons of water a day.

Another main component of xeriscaping is installing efficient irrigation methods. Drips and soaker hoses direct water directly to the base of the plant and prevent the water evaporation that sprinklers allow. More efficient irrigation is also achieved when types of plants with similar water needs are grouped together. A xeriscaped landscape needs less maintenance than an area landscaped with grass and water-intensive plants.

Drought-Tolerant Plants

The most common example of a xeriscape-friendly plant is the cactus, which has hundreds of different species that are native to North and South America. Cacti have evolved many physical adaptations that conserve water. For example, their prickly spines, the cactus version of leaves, protect the plants from water-seeking animals. Their large, round stems have thickened to store large amounts of water. Their waxy skin reduces water lost to evaporation.

Cacti are far from the only plants appropriate for xeriscaping. Other drought-resistant plants include agave, juniper, and lavender. Many herbs and spices are used in xeriscaping, such as thyme, sage, and oregano. Some plants used for food are drought-resistant, such as black walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes, and sapodilla, a sweet fruit native to Mexico.

xeriscaping
Xeriscaping saves water in arid areas.

Natural Xeriscaping
The saguaro is a cactus that has become a familiar icon of Western movies. They dominate the desert landscapes of Arizona and northern Mexico, and can grow as tall as 15 meters (49 feet). As frightening as the saguaro can be because of their sharp spines, there are many bird and mammal species that call them home. The gila woodpecker and gilded flicker are two bird species that are good at carving out nesting sites in the saguaros. When these birds abandon the nests, other species, such as the elf owl or cactus wren, often take them over.

abandon
Verb

to desert or leave entirely.

adept
Adjective

skilled or good at something.

agave
Noun

type of succulent plant native to the Americas.

appropriate
Adjective

fitting.

arid
Adjective

dry.

aspect
Noun

view or interpretation.

base
Noun

bottom layer of a structure.

black walnut
Noun

nut tree native to North America.

cactus
Noun

type of plant native to dry regions.

cactus wren
Noun

bird native to the Americas.

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

component
Noun

part.

conservation incentive
Noun

financial encouragement for people or businesses to reduce their use of natural resources.

daffodil
Noun

type of flowering plant.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

dominate
Verb

to overpower or control.

drip irrigation
Noun

system that delivers moisture to plants by tubes with holes that drop water.

Noun

period of greatly reduced precipitation.

drought-tolerant
Adjective

able to survive an arid climate.

efficient
Adjective

performing a task with skill and minimal waste.

elf owl
Noun

bird native to North America.

eliminate
Verb

to remove.

embrace
Verb

to support enthusiastically.

estimate
Verb

to guess based on knowledge of the situation or object.

Noun

process by which liquid water becomes water vapor.

evolve
Verb

to develop new characteristics based on adaptation and natural selection.

financial
Adjective

having to do with money.

flower
Noun

blossom or reproductive organs of a plant.

frightening
Adjective

scary.

fruit
Noun

edible part of a plant that grows from a flower.

gila woodpecker
Noun

bird native to North America.

gilded flicker
Noun

bird native to North America.

herb
Noun

type of seasonal plant often used as a medicine or seasoning.

icon
Noun

an image or person used to represent something.

install
Verb

to introduce and make ready for use.

Noun

watering land, usually for agriculture, by artificial means.

Jerusalem artichoke
Noun

plant native to North America.

juniper
Noun

type of evergreen shrub or tree.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

lavender
Noun

type of flowering plant.

lawn
Noun

area of grass mowed, watered, and maintained by people.

maintenance
Noun

support or upkeep.

mammal
Noun

animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

method
Noun

way of doing something.

mulch
Noun

covering placed on or around plants to prevent evaporation and weed growth.

myrtle
Noun

flowering plant native to Europe and Africa.

native species
Noun

species that occur naturally in an area or habitat. Also called indigenous species.

nest
Noun

protected area built by birds to hatch their eggs and raise their young.

ocotillo
Noun

plant native to North America.

oregano
Noun

aromatic herb.

prolonged
Adjective

taking more time than anticipated.

reduce
Verb

to lower or lessen.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

rock
Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

sage
Noun

aromatic herb.

saguaro
Noun

plant native to North America.

sapodilla
Noun

fruit tree native to the Americas.

soaker hose
Noun

water hose that sits at the base of plants, delivering water directly to the plants' roots.

soil
Noun

top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

spice
Noun

tasty and aromatic plant substances used in cooking.

thyme
Noun

aromatic herb.

tree
Noun

type of large plant with a thick trunk and branches.

Noun

developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.

waxy
Noun

smooth and slightly sticky.

Noun

process of landscaping that requires minimal water use.

xerophyte
Noun

plants that have adapted to dry climates.