Xeriscaping means planting drought tolerant plants that use very little water. Being water-wise does not mean that you have to plant just cactus and other desert plants. Landscapes with rocks and cactus are really “zero-scaping.”
Now why would you want to bother with xeriscaping? Why not just put rocks around your yard, if you are concerned about conserving water? Rocks are not a good choice for landscaping because they create a heat sink. Once they are warmed up by the sun, they hold that heat. Plants transpire – meaning that they give off water – and this helps to cools the air around them.
There are many, many types of plants, including trees, that are well-suited to xeriscaping. Proper selection of plant materials and use of good water management techniques are the key to successful xeriscaping. How to water your lawn properly was covered in an earlier post so this blog will deal primarily with selecting appropriate plant materials for your xeriscape.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensi) does well in drought-like conditions with minimal water (2). The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) and Rocky Mountain Sugar Maple (Acer glabrum) also do well once they have been established (1). Establishment of plants means that they have a good root system. It usually takes about one year for most trees to get well-established.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensi)
Harisons yellow rose (Rosa harisonii) uses low to moderate water and does well after it is established (1). Lilac (Syringa sp.) and Spirea (Spiraea sp.) are some other shrubs that will serve well as xeriscaping plants (1). Butterfly Bush (Buddleia sp.), Dogwood (Cornus sp.) and Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) also can be used successfully in your xeriscape.(2). There are many other shrubs available that are well-suited xeriscaping.
There some types of vines that do well in xeriscaping: Trumpet Vine (Campsis x tagliabuana), Honeysuckle (Lonicera ssp), and Clematis (Clematis sp.) are just a few that I like (2).
Trumpet vine (Lonicera x brownii ‘Dropmore Scarlet’)
Other Suitable Plants
There are many types of annuals and perennials flowering plants that are good for use in xeriscaping. The Bearded Iris (Iris sp.) is a good spring blooming plant; California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is good summer blooming plant (1). Yarrow (Achillea sp.), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum), Crocus (Crocus sp.), Ice Plant (Delosperma sp.) are some of my favorite drought-tolerant perennials (2).
There are many good books listing the different types of plants you can use to xeriscape with or you can look them up on the net. The water authority for many urban areas have websites listing native plants that you could use and many cities have demonstration gardens so you can see how beautiful xeriscaping can be.
The most important thing to remember is that you want to group all of your low water use plants together so that they do not get over-watered.
(1) Denver Water. Xeriscape Plant Guide, Denver, Colorado. 1996
(2) City of Colorado Springs on behalf of Colorado Springs Utilities done in 2003. http://www.csu.org/wa/xeri/plants.jsp