The Xeriscaping Fallacy

Sounds pretty ominous. Has someone discovered that xeriscaping is a lie? No, but many people have discovered that you can’t have beautiful landscaping without some watering – even in Arizona. Numerous others may just not realize it yet.

Yes, there are plants that live in the open desert without any more water than nature provides. But… there’s a distinct difference between plants in the wild, and plants in your yard. Unless, of course, you wanted weeds to take over, which isn’t high on the list of desirable things for any homeowner’s yard.

Here’s the thing. No matter how ‘drought tolerant’ a plant may be, what it looks like in nature and what you want it to lend to your landscape are two different things. The term means that it will deal with dry spells, as in it probably won’t die, but says nothing about what it will look like after repeated or extended periods without moisture. Having the ability to be on death’s door and bounce back is never pretty, so it’s surprising that people think a landscape plant should somehow retain this impossible quality. No one – human, plant, animal, bird, or fish – can barely escape death without some scarring, some dwarfing, or other disfigurement.

If you care about things like curb appeal and landscaping value, it’s not likely you want a dwarfed, struggling, and disfigured collection of plants in your yard.  Yet this is exactly what you will wind up with if you provide no moisture assistance to your xeriscaping. It isn’t zero water needed, it’s low water requirements.

While many of the cacti, succulents, perennials, shrubs, and trees we use in Scottsdale and Phoenix landscaping are natives of the Sonoran Desert and those in surrounding areas, they weren’t born there. They originated there, and the desert plants you buy for your yard, or have installed by a landscaper are much needier than those in the wild. They have been grown in captivity, from a sprout or cutting in a container, not the soil of the ground out there beyond the development and the city limits. Their first year in your soil is crucial. They must adjust from one situation for their roots to another. Making things even more difficult is that they have left behind the regulated delivery of moisture the nursery had to provide to raise those plants in a manner that you would want to buy them. This is totally foreign to native plants in the wilds of the desert, and definitely not suited for no moisture assistance.

Not if you want your desert landscaping plants to thrive, and bloom nicely. Plants that are struggling to live will not have the energy to put on a profuse flower show. Nor will they grow as fast as possible. The homeowner who has the tolerance to wait decades for a plant to develop is a rarity. Yet, xeriscaping plants in the wild can take that long to achieve impressive proportions. So if for no other reason, and given the immature size of landscaping plants today, it would be in the interest of any homeowner to provide developmental assistance to the plants in their landscaping.

Since the energy they need from the sun isn’t an issue here in the Valley, that leaves only three other things for you to consider in making your xeriscaping not just successful, but beautiful. Food, water, and exposure. Like grass, many popular xeriscaping plants here in the Phoenix – Scottsdale area can’t tolerate too much shade or too much sun. So, knowing the sunlight needs of each plant you put in your yard is important to how they will reward you as a value to your landscaping. They also need some fertilizer, because they aren’t wild plants who take whatever comes their way, and hopefully survive. Surely, you want more than this around your home.

And last, but not least. we come to water. A precious commodity in the desert. While trying to grow a tropical jungle in the Valley of the Sun is certainly wasteful, assisting the all-important landscape surrounding your house to thrive is not. Especially when you’ve gone to the trouble of selecting xeriscape and native plants. Standing there with a hose and watering overhead isn’t the best choice, because most of the water applied evaporates thanks to the heat. This is also wasteful.

Plants, even cactus, need moisture at the roots, not on the surface. They can wick water up from deep in the ground, but they cannot coax it below from above. The solution is without a doubt drip irrigation. Whether you coil miles of soaker hose through your planting spaces, or have it professionally installed, gorgeous xeriscaping need regular moisture supplied to it’s roots. It may be minimal, and only a few times a month, but it makes a huge difference in how your xeriscaped property looks, and the health of your plants.

Scheduled watering that reaches the roots, which with super drought tolerant plants means moisture delivery far below the surface, is critical to the difference between poor looking and beautiful landscaping in Phoenix and Scottsdale. The easiest way to give your landscaping what it needs is professionally installed drip irrigation.

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