When someone starts talking about xeriscapes most of us picture gravel and succulents. There might be a yucca plant and some big rocks, but none of that sounds very appetizing to me. So I decided to see which edible plants could be part of a xeriscape. Here’s what I found out.
What are xeriscapes?
Xeriscapes are low-maintenance landscape designs that use little or no water. Designed to reduce evaporation and runoff, they cut pollution. Xeriscapes incorporate plants best suited to the local climate. These plants have evolved to thrive without the addition of water, fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides, hence the reduced pollution. The goal of a xeriscape is to conserve water, but they save time, too. How much extra time would you have if you didn’t need to water your garden? The only help an established xeriscape needs is occasional weeding and mulching.
These gardens also tend to promote biodiversity, but water is the key. In arid regions, such as Arizona and Nevada, as much as 75% of household water is used to water lawns. You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that xeriscapes containing trees reduced the heat island effect by nearly 5°F. Imagine how that temperature change could help save on your electric bill! But what about edible plants?
Planning your edible xeriscape
Most edible plants need far more water than would be used in a xeriscape, but not all. To start your xeriscape design, create a drawing to scale of your property. You can find a trick to doing this in my post on sun maps. Once you know where everything is, you can start your xeriscape plan:
Once plants are in place, add 2 to 4 inches of mulch around, but not touching, your plants. If you opt for stone or gravel mulch, know that it will reflect sunlight into the underside of the plants, creating more heat.
Edible plants for your xeriscape
While these plants will all need some irrigation, especially as they are getting established, they should be able to provide you with edible crops using far less water than other traditional garden crops. Also known as dryland farming, this method uses plants that have evolved to use water stored in the soil from the previous winter’s rainfall. Some of these offer the convenience and ease of being perennial, too!
Many of these plants will produce smaller-than-normal fruits when grown in a xeriscape, but the reduced water content translates into intense flavor and more sugar. You can see my post on deficit irrigation to learn more about that. Some people also grow corn, pumpkins, and even tomatoes in their xeriscape, though I’m not sure how well that would work.
Herbs are your blue-ribbon xeriscape plants. Most of them evolved in poor, rocky soil. The aromas and flavors we love them for are defense mechanisms against insect and herbivore feeding.
Caring for your xeriscape
The trick to watering a xeriscape is to do it deeply and infrequently. As plants become established, they will need little or no irrigation. Water in the pre-dawn hours or evening by laying a hose on the ground near plants that need watering to reduce evaporation. As always, groups plants by their light and water needs. And be sure to add a fallow period to your crop rotation so that you don’t deplete the groundwater or nutrients.
It may surprise you, but rain gardens are a type of xeriscape.
Do you know any other edible plants that would grow in a xeriscape?
Let us know in the comments!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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