Xeriscaping creates low-maintenance landscape easy on environment

Cactus and gravel, rocks and yucca.

Xeriscaping, or quality landscaping to conserve water, doesn't have to mean a dry, lifeless landscape with driftwood surrounded by gravel.


Casey Sharber, Oklahoma State University-Canadian County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service horticultural educator, taught a landscaping for water conservation class at several OSU county extension centers.

Xeriscaped yards can be beautiful and diverse if seven fundamental principles are observed. They boil down to planning and design, improving the soil, using appropriate plants and zoning the landscape, creating practical turf areas, using mulches, irrigating efficiently and maintaining the landscape appropriately.

Sharber said putting together a good site analysis starts the process, which includes assessing factors that influence water and taking inventory of existing trees, shrubs and turf. 

The first step is improving the soil by adding organic matter to the soil of shrubs and flower beds, which improves plant health and conserves water. Sharber recommends tilling in four inches of organic material, although she recognizes that may not be possible for tree and grassy areas.

Another misconception: Drought tolerant doesn't mean "plant and forget."

Sharber urges planting flora with similar water needs together.

She suggests planting ornamental grasses, echinacea (also called purple coneflower), gaillardia (or Indian blanket, the state wildflower), scaevola (or fan flower) and Mexican zinnia.

"It does well in drought conditions," she said.

One of the bushes or shrubs she recommends is deciduous holly, "which I think is underrated. It loses leaves in winter, but holds red berries. Birds don't eat them."

Medium shrubs that would do well include crape myrtle, shrub roses and sumac. Other small shrubs are glossy abelia, winter jasmine, junipers, nandinas and spirea.

For trees, bald cypress is high on the list " which Sharber said does well in wet or dry weather. Another evergreen, the Arizona cypress, provides a blue tone and is recommended over blue spruce.

Some recommended large trees including Caddo sugar maple, hackberry, ginkgo, Kentucky coffeetree, oak, lacebark elm and Japanese zelkova. Medium trees include Chinese pistache, Western soapberry and cedar elm.

Mulching can conserve soil moisture, reduce weeds, prevent soil compaction and moderate soil temperatures.

Organic mulches might include straw, pine needles, bark nuggets, wood chips, sawdust and other wood products. Inorganic includes lava rock, rock, plastic, landscape fabric or rubber.

Sharber said overhead irrigation systems are inefficient because of wind and evaporation. Soaker hoses, drip or trickle systems are better ways to water. Another tip: Water between late evening and mid-morning to avoid excessive waste through evaporation.

Maintaining the landscape includes proper water, pruning and mowing and properly timed pest control.

Information is available free at any county extension center, along with advice from master gardeners. The Cleveland County Extension's master gardener demonstration garden has a xeriscaping garden on display. "Carol Cole-Frowe

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