Xeriscape - A Great Dry Area Option
by Brenda Ruzycki
by Brenda Ruzycki

Brenda's has 25 years experience working in the horticulture industry.

June 2, 2002

Dear Brenda: This may sound very strange but it’s something we are very interested in doing. We are in the process of re-doing three family grave sites (all in a row) in a little country cemetery. We are installing new dirt with the rigid landscaping border around them. We want to plant a very low-growing perennial, fragrant herb or ground cover that would not require anything more than a monthly upkeep or mowing on the entire plots. Do you have any suggestions?
– Judy

Dear Judy:

This is a great question which could apply to many situations in any garden. What you want to create is a small, defined garden that is low-maintenance and water-efficient. This is referred to as a “xeriscape” garden. The first step is to make a plan. In your case it would be fairly simple. Use grid paper and draw out to scale the three rectangles, or perhaps one large one.

The next step is to prepare the soil. You already have plans to bring in new topsoil. This is great. You will want to incorporate soil that will improve the ability to hold water and nutrients. Adding organic matter such as peat moss or manure will also help.

Next, you will want to select the appropriate plant material. Of course, in your situation you will not be looking at any trees or shrubs. Instead, you will be looking at perennials or even herbs as you already suggested. 

You could go with one selection to cover the entire area. What this would look like is one mass planting of one variety of plant. For sake of maintenance this is not bad, but it is boring. Select two or three varieties of perennials to achieve different colour, texture and interest. Select plants with different colours of foliage, texture and blooming times. Plant them in informal groupings of five to seven plants per group. 

It goes without saying, plant the taller ones to the back and the lower ground cover ones toward the front of the beds.

The choices for perennials in a xeriscape garden would include baby’s breath, blanketflower, coneflower, daylily, dianthus, globe thistle, hens and chicks, liatris, potentilla, Russian sage, sage, snow-in-summer, soapwort, spurge, sedum, and yarrow. Since a lot of these grow 60 centimetres or higher in height, they will not be appropriate for your particular situation. 

For perennials that grow lower than 45 centimetres choose from the following: snow-in-summer, blooms white in spring, dianthus (cottage pinks), blooms pink in summer, creeping baby’s breath, blooms white in summer, potentilla, blooms yellow in summer, silver mound sage or silver brocade sage, which provides a silver foliage and interesting texture all summer, and some sedum varieties which are shorter and provide summer blooming. All of these varieties are winter hardy and do not need much for winter protection. As far as herbs go, most of the perennial ones will need a little bit more winter protection. Therefore, I don’t have any to recommend for this particular situation. 

Finally, to help retain moisture, reduce weed growth and improve the soil, mulch the entire area with organic mulch such as clean wood chips. As mentioned, a landscape border will certainly help in keeping the mulch retained – resulting in a neat and tidy xeriscape garden.


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