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Xeriscaping helps in a time of water scarcity: Environment Lethbridge

As water scarcity becomes a reality in southern Alberta, more people are curious about Xeriscaping. But what is it, exactly? 

Xeriscaping and zeroscaping are not the same, says Kathleen Sheppard, executive director of Environment Lethbridge.  

“Xeriscaping replaces water intensive landscaping, like lawns, with drought tolerant plant species. Zeroscaping uses rock and gravel and can have a negative impact because it increases runoff during rain events,” adds Sheppard. 

There are seven principles of xeriscaping, according to the City of Lethbridge. 

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  1. Plan and Design: You wouldn’t build a home without blueprints. So don’t create a landscape without a plan. No two yards are the same. Take time to understand your layout and how to incorporate water-conserving techniques and vegetation. There are many factors to consider, including topography, sun exposure and prevailing winds. 
  2. Improve the Soil: The goal is to have soil that simultaneously drains quickly and stores water. Adding compost to your soil will help it hold moisture. Supporting the growth of new plants’ roots system is also key. Loosening the soil allows water and air to access the roots. 
  3. Vegetation: Choosing what vegetation to plant, and how, is important. Use drought-resistant plants that are native to your area. Their deep roots can access more sub-surface moisture than non-native plants. Have a plan for the location of specific plants. Organizing plants according to their water needs allows for more efficient water usage. 
  4. Turf Areas: Turf is important. It’s a good area for kids to play, it helps cool the environment and it reduces sun glare. But other ground cover plants perform similar functions, so you can aim to reduce your turf surface area. Many southern Alberta yards feature Kentucky Blue Grass. Consider switching to a more water-efficient option like fine fescues or rye grass. When watering turf, be sure to avoid runoff. 
  5. Irrigation: Use soaker hoses or a drip-irrigation system to avoid overwatering. These target the base of a plant, ensuring the best water efficiency. As with any outdoor watering, set your timers to water early in the morning or at night to reduce water loss through evaporation. Don’t know how much water to use on your plants? You should notice a bit of wilting during the peak heat of the day and back to full perkiness as temperatures cool. 
  6. Mulch: Soil needs all the protection it can get. Use mulch to help your soil retain moisture and limit competing weed growth. Organic mulches include wood chips, leaves and grass clippings. These will incorporate with the soil over time, so be sure to top it up every so often. Inorganic mulches include rock, gravel and fabricated metals. You’ll need between three to six inches of mulch to maximize its effectiveness.
  7. Maintenance: While it is a low maintenance option, xeriscaping isn’t a “set it and forget it” approach. Monitor each plant to ensure it receives the proper mixture of water and sunshine. Tall grass is a natural mulch, so keep your turf at least two-and-a-half to three inches high.

Xeriscaping shouldn’t feel like a daunting task. You can start small and expand it over time. 

“You don’t have to xeriscape your entire yard all at once,” notes Sheppard. “As an intermediary step, try converting a small patch of lawn to something more drought tolerant. Or plant some native wildflowers instead of petunias.” 

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