Xeriscaping is a landscaping technique that uses low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plant species grouped together to form natural looking landscapes that conserve water and other natural resources.

If you heard someone talk about xeriscaping, what was the first image that came to mind?

Cacti, succulents and loads of gravel?

 Xeriscaping is a landscaping technique that uses low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plant species grouped together to form natural looking landscapes that conserve water and other natural resources. You don't need to live in a desert climate to benefit from xeriscaping, the principles are applicable to any climate. Water is a finite resource, and more than 50% of residential water use is spent on lawns and landscaping. Using xeriscape techniques can reduce water consumption by up to75 percent! 

The goal of xeriscaping is reducing or eliminating the need for water beyond what the natural climate provides. We tend to think of the dry regions of the western UnitedStates when considering the use of xeriscape techniques, but every area can benefit from these techniques. 

The most important environmental aspect of xeriscaping is choosing vegetation that is appropriate for your climate.  You want to choose drought-tolerant vegetation or plants that thrive with little additional watering in lieu of vegetation that requires significant irrigation and tending. Established lawns on average require 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week, or enough to moisten the top 6-8 inches of soil.  If your lawn is 10’ by 10’, that translates to 12.5 cubic feet, or almost 94 gallons of water a week!

With an established xeriscape, the goal is watering infrequently, once a week or every two weeks. Of course, the amount of water needed will depend on your plant selection, soil type and climate. Consider this as a rule of thumb to guide you in watering:watering for a deep soaking and infrequently is better for plants than a frequent, shallow watering.  Deep watering encourages roots to grow vertically, deeper into the soil base, rather than horizontally, closer to the surface.

The deeper the roots go the more vegetation will take advantage of the natural coolness and moisture in the soil.  Shallow roots bake in the sunshine and become reliant on frequent watering.

A region in California tested out offering incentives to its residents to convert from traditional landscaping to xeriscaping.  “The city’s water department estimated that the houses that chose xeriscaping saved 120 gallons of water a day.”

Yes, you read that right.

Don’t believe the myth that xeriscapes limit your choice of vegetation.  Contrary to popular belief, cacti, succulents and native grasses aren’t the only plants on the list.  A well-designed xeriscape can even incorporate turf. Remember, the goal is to reduce water use, natural resources and decrease required maintenance while still maintaining an attractive landscape.

Maryland has many native species that are attractive, drought-tolerant and easy to maintain.

Here’s a brief list:


Allegheny stonecrop (Hylotelephium telephioides)- flower

American holly (Ilex opaca)- tree

Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)- flower

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)- flower

Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)- flower

Coral bells (Heuchera spp.)- flower

Eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa)- flower

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)- tree

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)- small tree

Inkberry (Ilex glabra)- shrub

Liatris (Liatris spp.)- flower

Mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)- shrub

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)-shrub

New England aster (Aster novae-angliae)- flower

Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)- tree

Pin oak (Quercus palustris)- tree

Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)- small tree

Red maple (Acer rubrum)- tree

Sedums (Sedum spp.)- succulent

Spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)- flower

If xeriscaping sounds like something you’d like to use in your landscape, this method will get you started.

Plan and design

Sketch out how you want the landscape to look and which plants will go where.  Group plants not just for their complementary colors or textures, consider which plants won’t compete with one another for soil nutrients or provide necessary nutrients to surrounding vegetation.

Soil Condition and Amendment

Another important aspect of xeriscaping is soil condition.If your soil is too dry, consider amending it with a mix of sand and organic matter. Soil test kits can be purchased at home improvement stores. You can also use the Internet to learn about the quality of your soil.

You may need to supplement with additional soil, compost, gravel or mulch for your project. 


Even though you’re xeriscaping you’ll still need to water, and any new installation will require more frequent up-front watering to establish your new plantings.  This can be done by hand-watering or with a sprinkler system.  Avoid watering between 10 am and 6 pm to avoid evaporation as you water.  Watering early means cooler temps and less direct sunlight, allowing the water to penetrate the soil more efficiently.


 Most people think xeriscape designs depend primarily on rock or gravel, but too much can actually increase temperatures and dry out the soil more quickly.   Organic mulch is a wonderful alternative, providing an insulating blanket to retain moisture, and was the mulch decomposes will deposit nutrients into the soil. If you do use rock or gravel, use them sparingly and to a depth of two inches.  Organic mulches, such as bark or wood chips, should be at least 4 inches deep.

 Plant zones

To minimize water waste, group together plants with similar light and water requirements and place them in an area that matches their requirements.  High-water-use plants should be placed in low-lying drainage areas, near downspouts or in the shade of other plants.

Alternative turf grasses

 With a well-designed landscape you can retain turf, just remember turf requires more water and maintenance!  Alternatives are ornamental grasses, mosses, creeping charlie, sweet woodruff, red creeping thyme and many others.

Ornamental grass
Red creeping thyme
Mexican feathergrass
Moss is an ideal ground cover


Remember, all landscapes require a certain amount of care and maintenance.  Trees, shrubs and perennials need occasional pruning to remove dead material, promote blooming and control height or spread.

July 1, 2022

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