• xeriscaping
    Xeriscaping saves water in arid areas.

    Photograph by Vanessa Vadim, MyShot

    Natural Xeriscaping
    The saguaro is a cactus that has become a familiar icon of Western movies. They dominate the desert landscapes of Arizona and northern Mexico, and can grow as tall as 15 meters (49 feet). As frightening as the saguaro can be because of their sharp spines, there are many bird and mammal species that call them home. The gila woodpecker and gilded flicker are two bird species that are good at carving out nesting sites in the saguaros. When these birds abandon the nests, other species, such as the elf owl or cactus wren, often take them over.

    Xeriscaping is the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. This means xeriscaped landscapes need little or no water beyond what the natural climate provides.

    Xeriscaping has been embraced in dry regions of the western United States. Prolonged droughts have led water to be regarded as a limited and expensive resource. Denver, Colorado, was one of the first urban areas to support xeriscaping. That citys water department encouraged residents to use less of the city's drinkable water for their lawns and gardens.

    Xeriscaping has become widely popular in some areas because of its environmental and financial benefits. The most important environmental aspect of xeriscaping is choosing vegetation that is appropriate for the climate. Vegetation that thrives with little added irrigation is called drought-tolerant vegetation. Xeriscaping often means replacing grassy lawns with soil, rocks, mulch, and drought-tolerant native plant species. Trees such as myrtles and flowers such as daffodils are drought-tolerant plants.

    Plants that have especially adapted to arid climates are called xerophytes. In desert areas like Phoenix, Arizona, xeriscaping allows gardeners to plant native xerophytes such as ocotillo.

    Supporters of xeriscaping say it can reduce water use by 50 or 75 percent. This saves water and money. In Novato, California, residents were offered conservation incentives (reductions in their water bills) to convert from traditional lawns to xeriscaping. The citys water department estimated that the houses that chose xeriscaping saved 120 gallons of water a day.

    Another main component of xeriscaping is installing efficient irrigation methods. Drips and soaker hoses direct water directly to the base of the plant and prevent the water evaporation that sprinklers allow. More efficient irrigation is also achieved when types of plants with similar water needs are grouped together. A xeriscaped landscape needs less maintenance than an area landscaped with grass and water-intensive plants.

    Drought-Tolerant Plants

    The most common example of a xeriscape-friendly plant is the cactus, which has hundreds of different species that are native to North and South America. Cacti have evolved many physical adaptations that conserve water. For example, their prickly spines, the cactus version of leaves, protect the plants from water-seeking animals. Their large, round stems have thickened to store large amounts of water. Their waxy skin reduces water lost to evaporation.

    Cacti are far from the only plants appropriate for xeriscaping. Other drought-resistant plants include agave, juniper, and lavender. Many herbs and spices are used in xeriscaping, such as thyme, sage, and oregano. Some plants used for food are drought-resistant, such as black walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes, and sapodilla, a sweet fruit native to Mexico.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandon Verb

    to desert or leave entirely.

    adept Adjective

    skilled or good at something.

    agave Noun

    type of succulent plant native to the Americas.

    appropriate Adjective

    fitting.

    arid Adjective

    dry.

    aspect Noun

    view or interpretation.

    base Noun

    bottom layer of a structure.

    black walnut Noun

    nut tree native to North America.

    cactus Noun

    type of plant native to dry regions.

    cactus wren Noun

    bird native to the Americas.

    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    component Noun

    part.

    conservation incentive Noun

    financial encouragement for people or businesses to reduce their use of natural resources.

    daffodil Noun

    type of flowering plant.

    desert Noun

    area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

    Encyclopedic Entry: desert
    dominate Verb

    to overpower or control.

    drip irrigation Noun

    system that delivers moisture to plants by tubes with holes that drop water.

    drought Noun

    period of greatly reduced precipitation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: drought
    drought-tolerant Adjective

    able to survive an arid climate.

    efficient Adjective

    performing a task with skill and minimal waste.

    elf owl Noun

    bird native to North America.

    eliminate Verb

    to remove.

    embrace Verb

    to support enthusiastically.

    estimate Verb

    to guess based on knowledge of the situation or object.

    evaporation Noun

    process by which liquid water becomes water vapor.

    Encyclopedic Entry: evaporation
    evolve Verb

    to develop new characteristics based on adaptation and natural selection.

    financial Adjective

    having to do with money.

    flower Noun

    blossom or reproductive organs of a plant.

    frightening Adjective

    scary.

    fruit Noun

    edible part of a plant that grows from a flower.

    gila woodpecker Noun

    bird native to North America.

    gilded flicker Noun

    bird native to North America.

    herb Noun

    type of seasonal plant often used as a medicine or seasoning.

    icon Noun

    an image or person used to represent something.

    install Verb

    to introduce and make ready for use.

    irrigation Noun

    watering land, usually for agriculture, by artificial means.

    Encyclopedic Entry: irrigation
    Jerusalem artichoke Noun

    plant native to North America.

    juniper Noun

    type of evergreen shrub or tree.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    lavender Noun

    type of flowering plant.

    lawn Noun

    area of grass mowed, watered, and maintained by people.

    maintenance Noun

    support or upkeep.

    mammal Noun

    animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

    method Noun

    way of doing something.

    mulch Noun

    covering placed on or around plants to prevent evaporation and weed growth.

    myrtle Noun

    flowering plant native to Europe and Africa.

    native species Noun

    species that occur naturally in an area or habitat. Also called indigenous species.

    nest Noun

    protected area built by birds to hatch their eggs and raise their young.

    ocotillo Noun

    plant native to North America.

    oregano Noun

    aromatic herb.

    prolonged Adjective

    taking more time than anticipated.

    reduce Verb

    to lower or lessen.

    resource Noun

    available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

    rock Noun

    natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

    sage Noun

    aromatic herb.

    saguaro Noun

    plant native to North America.

    sapodilla Noun

    fruit tree native to the Americas.

    soaker hose Noun

    water hose that sits at the base of plants, delivering water directly to the plants' roots.

    soil Noun

    top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

    spice Noun

    tasty and aromatic plant substances used in cooking.

    thyme Noun

    aromatic herb.

    tree Noun

    type of large plant with a thick trunk and branches.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.

    waxy Noun

    smooth and slightly sticky.

    xeriscaping Noun

    process of landscaping that requires minimal water use.

    Encyclopedic Entry: xeriscaping
    xerophyte Noun

    plants that have adapted to dry climates.

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