7 principles for the garden

Derived from the Greek word xeros for dry, xeriscaping is the practice of designing or creating landscapes using little water for the purpose of water conservation. In San Diego, ongoing drought conditions pose a challenge to our water supply. It’s important that gardeners rethink the way they use water. Xeriscaping is a cost-effective way to save water and beautify their surroundings.

The word xeriscape was first coined by the Colorado utility, Denver Water, in 1981. Denver Water developed a list of seven principles to help gardeners around the world create beautiful, water-efficient gardens.


Map out your existing landscape and create a base plan to determine what types of plants should go where in your yard. Through efficient landscaping, you can preserve water and have an enjoyable garden. Native and desert-adapted plants will provide lovely, colorful, and shady outdoor spaces around your home. Include an automatic sprinkler system, if desired.

It is important to test your soil prior to planting so you know what plants will adapt to your site and what kind of amendments your soil may need. You will want to loosen the soil to allow for better and faster infiltration of water and air needed for the plants’ root structure to become established and survive. You may also need to add compost to increase the soil’s water holding capacity.

Because grass requires a great deal of water and maintenance, you will want to use it only where it provides functional benefits. Avoid planting grass in slopes and areas that are hard to irrigate or maintain. Good alternatives for grass are drought-tolerant ground cover, native grasses, and wildflowers.

Choose native plants because they require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, and they usually do not require soil amendment. To minimize water waste, group plants with similar light, water, and maintenance requirements together. Plants that need more water belong in low-lying drainage areas, near downspouts, or in the shade of other plants.

Apply mulch at the base of plants to retain moisture, keep plant roots cool, and control weed growth and erosion. Mulch can also reduce soil compaction and salt buildup. Typical mulches include compost, bark chips, and inert materials such as decomposed granite and river run rock.

Water deeply and infrequently to develop deep roots and more drought tolerance. You should be able to water efficiently by hand or with an automatic sprinkler. Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water trees, shrubs, flowers, and ground cover.

Your new garden may require more watering as it gets established. As your garden matures, xeriscaping will minimize your maintenance efforts, but it will always require some routine pruning, weeding, and fertilizing.

The information for this article was provided by The Water Conservation Garden, a nonprofit organization in El Cajon. The 5.5-acre educational garden showcases how beautiful our landscapes can be with drought-tolerant and low-water-use plants, with many styles of gardens to explore. The Garden also provides practical hands-on workshops, lectures, and classes to help gardeners practice water conservation. Through its Ms. Smarty-Plants™ youth education program, more than 60,000 children are introduced to the concept of water conservation each year. To learn more, visit thegarden.org.

The Water Conservation Garden
The Water Conservation Garden
TOP TO BOTTOM: The Water Conservation Garden is composed of a series of water-smart exhibits and gardens | The Water Conservation Garden
TOP TO BOTTOM: The Water Conservation Garden is composed of a series of water-smart exhibits and gardens | The Water Conservation Garden
The Water Conservation Garden
The Water Conservation Garden