Designing a Water-Efficient Garden

You can create a lush, colourful garden, like the one in Figure 2, that requires little maintenance or water by applying the seven principles of xeriscaping — an approach to designing landscapes so that their water requirements correspond to local climatic conditions. While these are sound principals for any garden, they are particularly useful if you live in a region with low rainfall or that experiences water shortages.

Figure 2: Xeriscape design

1 — Design for your site and your needs

Sketch your lot including property lines, buildings, driveways and features that will remain. Add trees, shrub and flower beds, lawn areas, patios, decks, et-cetera. Consider the specific conditions of your yard, taking into account that water requirements will differ in shady versus sunny spots, and slopes versus flat areas or depressions. Moisture availability for your plants will also differ according to your soil type. Sandy soils drain water whereas clay soils hold water. Some places, such as narrow side yards, may be hard to water.

2 — Group plants with similar water needs to make watering more efficient

Shrubs and perennials should be grouped together in mulched beds. Trees should also be clustered in mulched beds rather than isolating individual specimens in lawn areas. This will help to reduce moisture loss and competition.

3 — Amend the soil

First, find out what type of soil you have and improve its water retention capabilities accordingly, for example, by adding compost or other organic materials.

4 — Size your lawn area to meet your practical needs for play and traffic Avoid many small or narrow lawn areas in favour of a consolidated lawn, to make them easier and more efficient to water. For primarily visual areas, consider water-efficient ground covers, perennials or shrubs. For foot-traffic routes or narrow spots, such as side yards, a permeable inert surface such as wood chips or natural stone requires no water.

5 — Choose plants that are well suited to your climate and site conditions

Consult your local garden centre or the references at the end of this article to find plant lists. Know your site including its soil types. In shady areas, use shade-tolerant species or consider a woodland shade garden. In sunny spots, use drought tolerant, sun-loving species or consider a wildflower meadow. Drought tolerant species should be used on rapidly-draining slopes (avoid turf grass), but you can consider moisture-loving plants in depressions or low spots. For a water-saving lawn, choose a species best suited to rainfall levels in your region. Low-maintenance lawn seed mixes are commercially available. Check your local seed companies or garden centre.