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Xeriscaping: Sustainability in Practice

I wonder whether what I’m doing at the moment is the greenest thing I can do? How do I make the best choices to be as sustainable as possible? And, as one person, does it really matter what I do on this planet?

I do everything possible to lead a green life. I recycle. I leave the grass clippings on the lawn, water only when necessary, and would compost if I could without attracting the “varmints” from the open space behind our house (I’m still working on this). My husband says, “Let me put the plant in the ground and be done with it,” whereas I’m contemplating the most appropriate location for that very plant.

In most of North America, over 50 percent of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscape (using drought-tolerant plants that require minimal water to survive and thrive) can reduce landscape water use by 50-75 percent. This does not mean using only cactus (cactus generally don’t survive our winters outside) or all hardscape (rock or hard surfaces). It means being practical in what you do outside, too.

I am an avid xeriscape gardener. We live in an arid climate in Colorado, a blessing because we can put our wet bath and kitchen towels back on the towel rack and they’re usually dry before we need them again. A curse because we have to regularly water our garden and our lawn to keep it alive.

Originally coined by the Denver Water Department, the term xeriscape was developed for drought-afflicted areas. However, water is now considered an expensive and limited resource in many areas, so today xeriscape principles have a wider appeal. All residential or commercial landscaping projects can benefit from this alternative.

Xeriscapes portray many visions—one can achieve almost any landscaping style applying these principles to all or part of a yard in any geographic region. You may say, “We have plenty of water, so we don’t need to worry about that.” To that I say, “You have drier and wetter parts of your yard.”

Xeriscape landscaping incorporates seven basic principles that save water: planning and design; soil improvement; appropriate plant selection; practical turf areas; efficient irrigation; mulching; and appropriate maintenance.

The benefits of Xeriscape include saving water, less maintenance, using fewer or no fertilizers or pesticides, improving property value, and providing a pollution-free wildlife habitat. To save water, we incorporated drought-tolerant fescue blend grass in our backyard and we employ the pollution free aspect for our yard and the environment.

Our wildlife shortlist includes hummingbirds, bluebirds, finches, butterflies, and deer (luckily the deer haven’t yet discovered our garden). I find that our yard now requires less work and water to maintain, so I see the benefits of saving both time and water. I’m finally enjoying moving or switching plants to more appropriate areas (instead of only buying plants).

So what is best? How do you reduce your carbon footprint? What other things can we do? These are questions I constantly ask myself and some of my friends. What ideas do you have about how we can be as green as possible in the usability and technical communication fields? What tricks of the trade do you use?