TAOS UNLIMITED SPECIAL FEATURE: Counterculture: Xeriscape Gardening in the New Mexico High Desert

Xeriscape Gardening and Landscaping in the New Mexico High Desert

An adobe home features a xeriscape landscaping to conserve water use in the high desert of New Mexico.Xeriscape landscaping is a method which requires little or no irrigation or maintenance, used to conserve water in arid regions. Rather than a specific style, Xeriscape is the employment of seven basic landscaping principles. Each principle is considered in the planning and designing phase, and is installed in a particular sequence. The seven principles of Xeriscape are:

• Planning and Designing: The plan takes into account the major existing elements of the landscape; the house, driveway, deck or patio, trees, etc. Once the basic plan is drawn to scale, other details are added, such as fences, walls, and other structures, as well as spigots and downspouts. Other details are noted, such as sloping and shaded areas.

• Soil Improvements: Soils in arid areas tend to have a large concentration of either clay or sand. Depending on the plants chosen, it may be necessary to add several inches of organic matter to the soil base and till it in. This allows the soil to hold water and allow for deeper root structures.

• Efficient Irrigation: Irrigation is planned specifically by planting areas, as efficient watering methods vary according to planting types.

• Zoning Plants: Plants with similar water and light requirements will be planted together in appropriate environments. Higher water-use plants will be set in low lying areas, near downspouts, or in the shade of other plants. Dry, sunny areas (especially areas far from the house or watering source) are ideal for native, low water-use plants. By grouping plants appropriately, water waste is minimized, and plants will flourish. In addition to planning for light requirements and water use, varieties with different heights, colors and textures are grouped together for interest.

• Mulches: Mulch is essential in Xeriscape landscaping. Mulch holds moisture longer, keeps roots cool, prevents soil from crusting, and reduces weed growth. There are numerous types of organic mulches which should be applied at least four inches deep. As the mulch decomposes, it also adds nutrients to the soil. Inorganic mulches, such as rocks and gravel, are used in windy spots, and do not need to be replaced; however, they do retain and radiate heat, so their use should be planned with care.

• Turf Alternatives: To reduce the amount of watering required to maintain turf, native, low water-use plants, patios, decks and mulches should replace grass. It is also possible to use a turf that uses less water, such as buffalograss and fescues.

• Appropriate Maintenance: Xeriscape landscaping can be preserved with regular maintenance. For the first year or two, it will require a fair amount of weeding, but as the plants mature, they will crowd out the weeds, significantly reducing maintenance time. The garden will also require attention to irrigation, pruning, and fertilizing. A new Xeriscape garden will require a similar amount of time to maintain as a traditionally landscaped garden, but it decreases over time.

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