27-06-2023 Skills & Tips

In the face of droughts, xeriscaping is the way forward for our green spaces

Meet "xeriscaping", a very interesting approach to design sustainable green spaces that consume the least possible water.

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Faced with more and more frequent long, dry periods, landscaping professionals find themselves up against a hefty challenge: to design sustainable green spaces that consume the least possible water. To tackle this issue, the xerophile garden is one solution that fits the bill in a trend whose popularity is very much on the rise! And make no mistake: xeriscaping doesn’t have to mean desert landscapes full of cacti.


How to save water in green spaces: our ultimate guide

What is xeriscaping?

This trend, which takes its name from the Greek word “xeros” (dry), is nothing new. It took shape in the 1970s in the drought-stricken west of the United States. Eco-friendly yet attractive landscapes were created to save water in green spaces. This approach later crossed the Atlantic under the name of xeriscaping and took root in a context of chronic droughts touching the whole of Europe from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia.

Xeriscaping decreases a garden’s water intake by between 25% and 75% — an enticing promise that could enable town and district councils and landscapers alike to conserve their water resources without sacrificing the sustainability of their landscape developments

How do you create a green space that keeps to the xeriscaping canon?

Designing a xerophile green space begins, as does all landscaping work, with an appraisal of the terrain—identifying sunny and shaded areas, wet and dry areas; studying the soil, the levels and slopes, the local climate; defining public walking areas, etc.

Xeriscaping is not a copy and paste solution from garden to garden (it needn’t deteriorate into blandscaping). It’s an eco-aware approach that involves considering a green space in all its individuality and making the best of its strengths and weaknesses.

1. Amending the soil: consistency and pH

Too sandy a soil will be poor in minerals and unable to hold water effectively; too clayey, and it will starve plants of oxygen. Since deep-rooted plants draw water to the surface, it’s best to correct any soil faults before going any farther. The use of compost, peat, or manure can change the soil’s pH, improve its water retention, and aid the root development of plants.

But beware, xeriscaping is a philosophy that implies getting the maximum out of existing nature. It's a symbiosis with the living, not a battle against it (and even less a weedkiller- and insecticide-led assault).

2. Choosing resistant xerophile plants

Mediterranean and alpine plants are especially well suited to xerophile development, as are cacti and succulents. But so are many local indigenous plants that have evolved in symbiosis with their environment and have strengths that come in very handy in times of hydric stress.

By privileging local plant species as much as possible, not only do you ensure sustainability but you also preserve the location’s landscape signature and its ecosystem, while working in favor of local economic development. Xeriscaping means that too!

3. Putting plants where they belong

The xerophile garden demands clever ways of making disparate plants coexist. One such way is knowing how to use the terrain’s level differences to your advantage! Place thirsty plants near the bottom of slopes, in the shade, where they will naturally benefit from run-off water and the moist soil, while positioning the more resistant plants higher up, exposed to the sun. 

To create a garden where the different plants sustain each other, you can borrow some of the coexistence principles found in permaculture.

4. Reappraising lawns

Lawn grass needs a lot of water to avoid turning yellow. And it’s bottom of the class when it comes to favoring the expansion of biodiversity in green spaces! 

Xeriscaping at the outset relied on gravel and pebbles; these days we acknowledge that this approach is not the most respectful of the environment nor the most effective at fighting heat pockets. The most effective alternative is to use robust ground-cover plant species: 

  • clover, which pollinators simply love
  • buffalo grass, appreciated for its sweet perfume
  • bouteloua or “grama grass” and its surprising “ears” (grama)
  • rustic fescues, which are very good at withstanding hydric stress

5. Preventing evaporation

Every gardener is familiar with the benefits of mulching. It's an excellent way of retaining moisture from watering and morning dew while limiting adventitious development. Xeriscaping is no exception to the rule. Mulching, besides its aesthetic aspect, is invaluable!

6. Preserving water resources by optimizing watering

The right amount in the right place at the right time: that’s the leitmotif of every water-frugal green space. The landscaping sector does not turn its back on innovation, and automatic watering is becoming more and more popular thanks to its many advantages.

Storing rainwater and making good use of levels and slopes also leads to substantial water savings. Other techniques, like the oya pots recently on display at the center of an innovative urban furniture contest, can achieve water savings of 50% or even 70%.

Xeriscaping is one tactic to be considered for adapting to climate change and conserving our water resources. Other solutions and their feedback will be a topic at the Paysalia trade show, whose 2023 edition puts the accent on water management.

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© Photo credit: Simone / Adobe Stock

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Since its launch in 2009, Paysalia has been organized in co-production with UNEP which supports landscape contractors on a daily basis through its 13 regional unions. UNEP defends for the interests of businesses in the landscape and garden sector, develops social standards for the profession, and leads the creation of professional guidelines for the industry.