Introduction to Xeriscaping: Water conservation, Pest-Resistant, 
Low Maintenance and Pollinator-friendly Gardenscapes

Xeriscaping is basically the use of native and drought-tolerant plants, hard and soft mulches, rain harvesting, water-saving watering techniques.

"The Enchanted Xeriscape" -  7 Principles of Xeriscaping. 
A brochure provided by the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.

Xeriscaped front yard garden design
  - The plants used in this garden are cold hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 5
(except for jasmine groundcovers)


Combination of gardening concepts. Xeriscaping and hardscape landscaping materials

Native plants are well-adapted to the climate, precipitation, soils, insects, and other local conditions and are consequently easier to grow than non-natives. For information on the plants native to your area, check with your local nature centers, colleges, cooperative extensions, universities, and your state department of natural resources or similar agency.

Plants should be purchased from reputable suppliers not dug from the wild. It is illegal to remove plants from public lands. 

Saves Water. 
For most of North America, over 50% of residential water used is applied to landscape and lawns. Xeriscape can reduce landscape water use by 50 - 75%.

Less Maintenance. 
Aside from occasional pruning and weeding, maintenance is minimal. Watering requirements are low, and can be met with simple irrigation systems.

No Fertilizers or Pesticides. Using plants native to your area will eliminate the need for chemical supplements. Sufficient nutrients are provided by healthy organic soil.

Improves Property Value. A good Xeriscape can raise property values which more than offset the cost of installation. Protect your landscaping investment by drought-proofing it.

Pollution Free. Fossil fuel consumption from gas mowers is minimized or eliminated with minimal turf areas. Small turf areas can be maintained with a reel mower.

Provides Wildlife Habitat. Use of native plants, shrubs and trees offer a familiar and varied habitat for local wildlife.


my "zen tree" (Blue Atlas Cedar) is the focal point in this landscape
Wet area marked as the future rain garden

Straw Mulch is laid down in every spot after planting.

Planted bulbs, coreopsis,  buddleia (butterfly bushes) for the butterflies,
 covered area with shredded pine bark mulch. "Planted" 1000 worms in the planned beds to 
begin their tunnelling and composting. The worm castings will be a great fertilizer.

Xeriscape principles used: removed sections of water-hungry grass, added a stone pathway 
for a feeling of flow and to connect the front door to the garden areas, the driveway, the mailbox. 
mulch with any permeous material to keep down weeds and hold in moisture.
The mulch i used matches the mulch in the foundation planting in the "before" photos earlier.
Use drought-resistant plants native to your area and for your zone. I'm using evergreens as 
groundcover, which will also keep down weeds. Hard- and soft-scaping: the flagstone and the mulch. 
Adds interest, texture and flow. Note: always have more permeous (allows water to seep and drain through) 
than non-permeous materials in your landscaping, in the interests of runoff and stormwater management.


This photo is march/april 2008, when the garden was completed.
. The lit up landscape looks beautiful from the front porch at night. So far, almost zero 
maintenance aside from moving plants that were getting out of bounds and cutting back.

White pea gravel adds to the Asian look of the garden.

A natural choice for xeriscapes - Cacti and Succulents

Low-Maintenance Landscape Ideas

The following article is posted with many thanks to: The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, South Carolina

Prepared by Karen Russ, HGIC Information Specialist, and Bob Polomski, Extension Consumer Horticulturist, Clemson University
Clemson University Cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture, South Carolina Counties, Extension Service, Clemson, South Carolina. 
Issued in Furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914

Although there is no such thing as a maintenance-free landscape, it is possible to have an attractive landscape that is easy to care for. Good planning, design, plant selection and timely maintenance will reduce the amount of care that a landscape needs to look its best.


Planning is essential to the development of a low maintenance landscape. Extra time spent in planning will be repaid many times over in later leisure time.

Analyze Site: Begin with a thorough study of the features of your garden site. This will include site conditions, problem areas, desirable areas and views. Plot these factors on a sketch of your garden site for future reference.

Determine sun and shade patterns for all areas. Does the area receive different light at different times of day or in different seasons? Some plants do well with full morning sun but cannot handle the hotter afternoon sun.Other plants that can handle full sun in summer are subject to sunburn in winter. You will also want to locate patios, shade trees and arbors according to sun patterns.

Evaluate the maintenance needs of existing plants and structures. Identify the existing plants and determine their condition and future growth. A tree that will tremendously outgrow its present location may be easier and less expensive to remove and replace now than later.On the other hand, you may have features that are of unexpected benefit. A solid bed of moss under trees can mean that you will never need to mow that area.

Check soil drainage and storm runoff. Areas that stay wet can be lethal to many plants, and damaging to structures. Either regrade or install drain tiles to improve drainage, or plant that area only with water-tolerant plants.

The type of soil in your yard will also affect drainage rates and the types of plants that will thrive. A soil test will determine if soil amendments or fertilizers are needed.

Identify areas such as steep slopes that may cause maintenance difficulties. Lawns on steep slopes can be both high-maintenance and unsafe. Plan to replace the grass with groundcover or use terraces and retaining walls to reduce severe slope problems.

Analyze Your Needs: Determine what your needs and desires are for your yard. Families with young children will need play areas that are safe and easily watched. Plan your landscape around the kind of activities that you and your family engage in. Outdoor sports and yard games require a lot of lawn space and sturdy plantings.

Large paved areas are desirable for outside entertaining. Remember the needs of outdoor pets. Dogs can severely damage gardens unless they are confined to a separate area.

Consider the amount of time that you can afford or want to spend in yard maintenance. New gardeners should start with easier plantings than an experienced gardener would put in. Start small and simple until you know how much you like gardening.

Many people enjoy some aspects of garden care and dislike others. If you dislike spending time watering, choose only drought-tolerant plants or install an irrigation system. Those who hate to rake can choose trees with fine leaves that disappear into a lawn.

Take into account the physical abilities of the users and their ability to perform different maintenance jobs. Wheelchair access requires wide paths without overlapping plants. Raised beds are helpful for gardeners who have difficulty kneeling.

You will also need to allow room for such practical purposes as clotheslines, trashcan storage, compost and pet runs.


Many of the maintenance needs of a garden are determined by the design. By following a few simple guidelines, you can build in ease of care from the start.

Simplicity: Keep the planting design simple. Make certain each plant in the plan serves a purpose. Elaborate plantings require a great deal of attention. Simple plantings, using only a few plant species, can be both attractive and easy to manage.

Materials Selection: Some elements of a landscape need more care than others. Generally, paving such as patios and walks require the least care. They are followed by structures such as sheds and arbors, then trees, shrubs, ground covers, and lawns. Bulbs, annual and perennial flowers, and plants that need special care, such as roses, need the most maintenance. Since few of us would want a garden without any seasonal flowering plants, the maintenance impact can be reduced by planting high-care plants in limited numbers and where they will have the most impact.

Beds: Planting beds are easier to maintain than many isolated plantings. It is easier to mow around a bed with a continuous edge rather than around individual plants. Gentle curves or straight lines are both easier to care for and more pleasing than complicated curves and shapes. Avoid sharp corners or narrow strips that mowers cannot reach. Beds should be narrow enough for easy access, or be designed with steppingstones or paths through them.

Edging: Edging saves maintenance by keeping mulch in and lawn out. Steel, aluminum and plastic edgings are readily available. A very attractive edging can be constructed of pavers or brick laid flush with the lawn. This kind of edging will reduce the need for hand-trimming. While a spade cut edging will need to be re-cut seasonally, it will keep bed edges defined and neat. 

Hardscaping: Patios and decks are low-maintenance

choices for high traffic areas that will not allow the

successful growth of grass or other groundcover.

Sidewalks, patios and edging around beds should be low

and flat, permitting a power mower to ride up over the

surface and eliminating the need for hand edging.

Walks, patios, steps, walls, fences or shelters will need

periodic maintenance that will vary in frequency based

on the materials used. When considering various

landscape and construction materials, compare the initial

cost and maintenance to long term cost and durability.

Natural Areas: Some areas, especially on properties

with large trees, can be allowed to return to their natural

state. Woodlands are the natural condition for most

areas of the state. This option will require periodic care

to remove undesirable weed species.

Wildflower meadows require little supplemental

irrigation once established, and generally do not require

fertilization. They are an attractive alternative to the

traditional lawn since they need mowing only once a

year. This operation controls the growth of tree and

shrub seedlings, and if done in the fall, helps to spread

the wildflower seeds throughout the area.

Establishing a meadow garden will require effort

initially to control weeds until the young plants or seeds

are well-established. While a meadow garden need not

be weed-free to be attractive, it will require occasional

maintenance to control vigorous or invasive weeds.

The success of a wildflower species or mixture depends

on the adaptability of the species to a given area. Be

sure to choose mixes that are suited to your area.

Xeriscaping: The use of drought-tolerant plants in

watering zones will help to lower water use and reduce

maintenance. All the plants within a zone should have

the same water requirements and can be watered as a

group. High-moisture plants should be limited and

located where they can be reached easily with a hose.

Plants that rarely need supplemental moisture can be

used where a water source is not convenient. Lawns

usually use the most water in a landscape. By using

decks and patios, groundcovers and shrub beds, you can

limit lawn size and still have an attractive yard.





Care Zones: Keep small areas near the home highly

manicured and allow areas farther away to naturalize.

Group plants of similar cultural needs to save time in site

preparation and care. It is difficult to provide proper

water and light to all plants if those with dissimilar needs

are mixed together.

Drainage and Moisture Control: Use plants that

require little or no extra water after they are established

near buildings. Drier soil cuts down on mildew

problems and moisture damage and discourages insect

pests like termites and roaches. Make sure that the

ground close to the house is graded to channel water

away from the house. Make sure that roof drainage is

channeled to at least 10 feet away from the house with

drainpipes. Ground covers should be at least 6 to 8

inches below any untreated wood, and groundcovers and

organic mulches should be kept at least 12 inches away

from the house’s foundation in order to avoid giving a

bridge to termites. This area can be filled with crushed

gravel or stone. Allow for adequate air circulation

around the structure for vents and to prevent mildew.


Selecting the right plants is a very important step in

establishing your landscape. Selecting the improper

plant can increase your maintenance chores through

excessive pruning, extra watering and additional

spraying to control insects and diseases. Selecting the

right plant can reduce these chores and increase the time

you have to enjoy your landscape.

When choosing plants for your landscape, you should

know the characteristics of the plant such as mature size

and shape and whether it is evergreen or deciduous.

Select plants that are pest-resistant; hardy and heattolerant

for your area; and adapted for the sun, soil and

moisture conditions in your yard. Avoid plants with

messy fruits, pods or shedding branches. Select plants

that will not grow beyond the desired height and spread.

Select plants suited to the growing conditions rather than

try to change the conditions to suit the plants.

Trees and Shrubs: Most woody plants require less

maintenance than other plants, but some species and

cultivars are easier to care for or more pest-resistant than

others are. Select slower-growing trees and shrubs to

eliminate or reduce the need for pruning. Since these

plants are long-term investments, make sure that they

will not outgrow their space.

Groundcovers: Most ground covers need less water

than turfgrass, so replacing some of your lawn with a

ground cover will conserve water. Groundcovers are

often better choices than turf for steep slopes difficult

to mow or shady areas where grass does not grow well.

Beds of groundcovers at the base of structures such

as fences will help eliminate tedious trimming. Ground

cover plants need more maintenance when first planted

to prevent weeds until the area is covered. Fertilizer

and closer spacing of plants speeds ground cover


Vines: Vines can require very high maintenance if

improperly sited or can contribute greatly to your

landscape. Vines are excellent for providing a fast

screen. They will give height to a landscape while

needing little ground space and are therefore useful in

small gardens. Make sure that vines are given adequate

support and that you have time to keep them pruned. On

steep banks where a lawn will not grow, vines may be

used as groundcovers.

Flowers: While flowers need more maintenance than

any other plants, few gardeners would want to eliminate

them. To provide color along with easy upkeep, select

plants that are well-suited to your site, and use them in

limited areas where they will have the most impact.

Annuals need to be watered frequently and should be

deadheaded frequently. They must be replanted every

year. Perennials come back year after year, but many

need deadheading to look their best, and some must be

divided every few years. Many perennials need supports

to keep them from flopping. Naturalizing bulbs is an

excellent way to provide seasonal color with low care.

Other Plants: Roses and other specialty plants often

require more maintenance than other types of garden

plants. This does not mean that you need to completely

forgo your favorite roses. You may want to try to grow

them only in a small area though and select tougher

plants for the rest of your yard. You may even be able to

find certain types and species of roses that need a bit less

care. If your passion is water gardening, have a small

pond, one that can be cared for in time that you have

available. Native plants are often recommended for easy

maintenance, but keep in mind that most home sites bear

little resemblance to original soils or conditions. Make

sure that you choose plants suited to the current

conditions on your site.

Lawn: Lawns can be either moderately low-or very

high-maintenance, depending on the type of grass and

the standard of perfection you want to achieve. Lawns

need at least weekly mowing during the growing season.

Mow regularly to produce a healthy and dense lawn that

will outcompete weeds for sunlight and nutrients.

Remove no more than one-third of the grass height at

any one mowing.

To minimize landscape maintenance, consider reducing

the area of the yard devoted to turf. Keep large enough

grassy areas for entertaining needs and play areas, but

convert excess turf areas into plantings with lower

maintenance needs.


Soil Preparation: Trees, shrubs, and other landscape

plants must be planted properly and receive the right

amount of water if they are to establish themselves and

flourish. For more information on correct planting

methods, refer to HGIC 1001, Planting Trees; HGIC

1052, Planting Shrubs Correctly; HGIC 1058, Azalea

Planting, and HGIC 1100, Groundcovers.

Selecting Healthy Plants: Look for plants with healthy

foliage and make sure they are rooted firmly in the soil

in the container or ball. Check to see if the plants have

plenty of live, light tan or white roots. Avoid plants that

are root-bound or with roots exposed on the surface or

growing out the drain holes.

Mulch: Mulch beds with 2 to 3 inches of shredded bark,

pine needles or other organic material. This will reduce

weeds, retain soil moisture and keep soil temperatures

moderate. Keep mulch away from direct contact with

stems of shrubs and trees to avoid pest problems.

Watering: Provide adequate water to new plantings

until they are established. Typically, one or two full

growing seasons are needed for roots to extensively

develop into surrounding soil. Check for water needs in

the root ball, not in the new planting hole. For more

information on best watering practices, see HGIC 1056,

Watering Shrubs and Trees.


Plants are living organisms that need routine care to

thrive. Following correct maintenance procedures on a

timely basis can minimize maintenance.

Fertilizer: It is always best to base fertilizer

applications on the results of a soil test. Appropriate

applications of fertilizer as needed can improve the

appearance and condition of plants. Excessive fertilizer

can cause rapid growth that may be more susceptible to

insect and disease attacks and will require more pruning.

Other problems that can be caused by over use of

fertilizer include fertilizer burn and water pollution.

Pest Control: Check plants for disease and insect

outbreaks regularly. Problems are much easier to

control if caught early while they are affecting only a

small area. Before treating a possible pest problem,

make sure that it has been correctly identified. Make

sure that the insect is actually a pest, since many insects

are beneficial. Also find out the correct methods of

control and proper timing. You’ll find information on

controlling pests appropriately in HGIC 2755, Integrated

Pest Management (IPM).

Yard Trimmings: Grass clippings can be allowed to

remain on the grass to decompose. Your lawn will

recycle the clippings naturally, saving you time, money

and energy. Disposing of leaves, grass clippings and

other garden refuse is often a problem for gardeners,

particularly in an urban area. These garden and

landscape byproducts can be turned into useful compost

with little effort.

Watering: Lawn and gardens need enough water from

rain or irrigation to wet the root zone, generally 1 inch

per week on clay soils. Sandy soils that drain rapidly

may need to be watered with one-half inch of water

every three days. Plants will need more water during

periods of rapid growth, while flowering and in high

heat or windy conditions. They will use less water

during cool, damp weather. Adjust weekly watering to

your soil needs.

Irrigation systems can save much time and effort if

correctly installed and designed for your planting needs.

Overhead sprinklers or pop-up heads on an underground

irrigation system are appropriate for lawns. In flowerbeds,

spray-type emitters must be placed higher for

proper water distribution. For trees, shrubs and flowerbeds,

drip irrigation may be the most efficient system.

Hardscapes: Walks, patios, steps, walls and fences will

need periodic maintenance. The type and frequency will

vary with the materials used. For example, a concrete

patio would not need maintenance for 20 to 30 years,

whereas a brick in sand patio needs to be re-set every

three to five years. Brick set in mortar should last 20 to

30 years. Painted wooden structures and fences need

repainting every three to four years. However, woods

such as redwood, bleached or stained with a

preservative, usually last for the 20-year expected life

span of the structure.

Pruning: Take care of pruning needs early. Cut out

weak, narrow crotches on branches, crossing branches or

competing branches while they are still small. Pruning

jobs become more difficult with time. Avoid planting

trees and shrubs where they will outgrow their allotted

space without frequent pruning.

Tools: Power tools can make short work of many

maintenance operations. However, make certain they

are the right tools for the job. While string trimmers

quickly mow down weeds and grass around buildings

and fences, they should be used with extreme caution

around trees. The force of the trimmer line can cause

injury to the bark, leading to girdling and death.

Mowing: Mow at the proper height to allow grass to

develop deep roots that are more efficient in using soil

moisture. Correct mowing height also reduces weeds.



 Plants Suitable For Xeriscaping

The plants i name are plants i have successfully used in xeriscapes in US zones 5 and 8

Yes, you can include certain roses in a xeriscape design!


Dwarf Yucca "Color Guard"

Grows 2-3 feet tall and wide
zones 4-10 Evergreen

No garden is complete without varying shapes and foliage color. And some evergreen. I love the look and sword shape of Yucca. There aren't many varieties of manageable size that make it through a northeast winter, but this is one.

Perfect for xeriscaped water-wise gardens and desertscapes. It's a variety of succulent, so water needs are minimal. Yucca has average to low water needs, and a well-drained soil. Propagate by dividing the plant. I use these as a centerpiece, specimen, or backdrop. I also use these as a backdrop for my cactus and succulent garden beds.

A very pretty green and yellow, with swordlike leaves. Perfect for the center or backdrops of my Asian gardens. Looks pretty planted in pots anywhere. Gives interest and more impact in areas where you are growing bamboo or Japanese maples. 

Rose of Sharon
Giant Hibiscus

Sweet William
Tulips and crocuses
Rugosa roses
Shasta Daisies
 Blue Star Creeper
Vinca major and minor
Iris (some irises are for bogs and wet areas, so read the labels!)

General listing of plants suitable for xeriscaping in Pennsylvania, zone 5 courtesy of the USDA
You can search for xeriscape-suitable plants for your state, as well.