Principles of Xeriscape

The word 'xeriscape' is derived from the Greek word 'xeros' meaning dry and was coined by the Denver Water Board to describe a type of landscaping that would be appropriate for the arid West.

1. Planning and Design

A nice garden begins with a good design. The xeriscape can assume any style: from a contemporary look to a woodland feel, a cottage garden, a hot desert garden, and even a very conventional and traditional style, among others

  • Incorporate habitat for birds and other wildlife, and nectar plants for pollinators.

  • Design for low maintenance, plant trees to shade buildings and most importantly group plants by water needs.
  • Use higher water use needs plants sparingly and in the right location.
  • Apply concepts of permaculture.
  • Grow food in drip irrigated raised beds.

2. Turf

  • Create practical lawn areas.
  • Reduce your lawn size and put lawns in appropriate locations (not on hot hills, near concrete or in park strips).
  • Care for your lawn organically.
  • Use groundcovers where it's too shady for grass.
  • Use native and drought adapted turf species for best drought tolerance and low water use.
  • Adjust your sprinklers seasonally. Check the ‘Lawn Watering Guide’ updated weekly by the Utah Division of Water Resources.

3. Low Water Plants

  • Use regionally suitable plants - native and old world plants best suited to your soil, climate and growing conditions that work well together! In Utah, choose low water plants.

4. Soil Prep

  • Improve & maintain soil organically.
  • Your goal is a healthy, living soil using organic composts and fertilizers, not chemical fertilizers.
  • Till soil to ease compaction and amend with compost where needed (depleted soils in areas of new construction are the neediest)

5. Mulch

  • Use mulches, be they rock, bark or other materials, to save water, reduce weeding, and improve transplanting and re-seeding success.
  • Be aware a very few varieties of plants do not like bark mulch.

6. Irrigation

  • Irrigate efficiently!
  • Use drip irrigation for all non-turf planting beds – even higher water plants will use less water on a drip system!
  • Water more deeply and less frequently.
  • Adjust irrigation systems seasonally and for a good rain event.
  • Use local resources to determine water usage needs for turf areas over the course of the season.
  • DO use water to grow food in drip irrigated raised beds!

7. Rainwater Harvesting

  • Direct water onto your landscape, not the street.
  • Capture rainwater where legal and possible and use for irrigating either passively or actively.

8. Appropriate Maintenance

  • Use organic and natural products wherever possible.
  • Leave perennials and ornamental grasses standing over the winter to improve hardiness and for beauty.
  • Check and repair irrigation systems each spring.
  • Learn how to care for plants in a way that respects their natural beauty – avoid turning plants in to BALLS and CUBES!

9. ‘Xeriscape’ NOT ‘Zeroscape’

A ‘zeroscape’ is a landscape comprised of nothing but rocks, usually gravel. Devoid of plants, and therefore habitat, they create heat islands and lack beauty. They may have an application in small, select areas but they are not desirable and still get weeds!

Resources & Books


Books about Water

  • A Great Aridness by Willam Debuys
  • Unquenchable by Robert Glennon
  • Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner
  • Beyond the 100th Meridian by Wallace Stegner
  • The Arid Lands by John Wesley Powell
  • Blue Covenant by Maude Barlow
  • The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman
  • Blue Revolution by Cynthia Barnett

Books about Xeriscaping

  • Xeriscape Plant Guide
  • Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens
  • Durable Plants for the Garden
  • Plant Driven Design
  • The Undaunted Gardener
  • Xeriscape Colorado – The Complete Guide
  • Waterwise – Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes (Utah State)
  • Landscaping on the New Frontier (Utah State)
  • The Xeriscape Flower Gardener: A Waterwise Guide for the Rocky Mountain Region