Xeriscaping supports water conservation, improves the land
The term “xeriscape” was coined by a Colorado task force during the 1980s. The concept is not new, but it is just now surfacing as a gardening practice. The task force examined different water conservation techniques that could be accomplished through creative landscaping. Xeriscaping is a form of sustainable gardening.
Xeriscape gardening should always be done without injuring the land. Instead, it should improve the land, so it will continue to support healthy plants indefinitely for vegetable gardens, flower gardens and landscaping. Therefore, pesticides and herbicides should be used very judiciously and only in extreme need.
Xeriscape cultural practices, such as those taught by Dr. Jacob R. Mittleider, an international agricultural consultant at growfood.com, are as follows:
Eliminate all weeds from the garden area before planting and during the growing season. Two to three inches of organic mulching helps. Organic mulches include pine straw, bark chips, hardwood mulch, root mulch, rice hulls, cottonseed hulls and leaves.
Prepare growing area
Prepare the growing area for ideal plant growth. Evaluate and amend the soil. The Cooperative Extension in Georgetown test soil samples for quality in Sussex County. Visit ag.udel.edu/rec/Extension/MasterGardeners/soil_tests.html to learn more.
Choose drought-tolerant plants and water only the plants’ root zone. Xeriscaping uses native plants but not exclusively. The important part here is choosing plants that require decreased water usage for maintaining landscaping and gardens. Many plants suited for our region (Zone 7) are water thrifty. Efficient watering, like drip irrigation, is much better than overhead watering. As much as 60 percent of overhead watering evaporates before hitting the ground. Plant healthy and strong starter plants.
Feed plants balanced natural mineral nutrients to assure fast and healthy growth. Yearly amending with generous amounts of compost will keep all plants healthy.
Keep pests away
Harvest all vegetable plants at maturity to avoid allowing pests and diseases to multiply. Keep a check on landscaping plants for pests and disease.
Dump sickly plants
Discard any bug- or disease-infested plant parts away from the garden, and incorporate healthy plant parts into the soil to improve soil structure.
Following these sustainable gardening principles and practices will provide healthy vegetables, flowers and landscaping, giving the gardener the satisfaction of being an eco-contributor. Xeriscaping creates a life-giving habitat not only for the gardener but for pollinators, songbirds and beneficial insects.
Many of us are accustomed to large, grassy yards. We must get out of that mind-set. Lawns require huge amounts of water, and grass steals water from trees and shrubs, so more water is needed to keep plants alive. If you think about it, you can probably do with about half as much turf area. Change the remaining area to new planting beds of native perennials, trees and shrubs. That’s an exciting project for the spring.
Developing a xeriscape area takes some planning. Thinking through a new garden area is important. Our local nurseries stock some drought-tolerant, native plants, but many may need to be purchased through catalogs.
So you must not only investigate which plants you want but also where to get them.
Even though it’s February, remember: Gardening never goes out of season.
Mary Sue Colaizzi is a master gardener with Delaware Cooperative Extension and recipient of the 2007 Sussex County Master Gardener of the Year Award. She has been a gardener in Rehoboth Beach for the last two decade.