What is Xeriscaping?

Posted by on Monday, April 11th, 2016 at 4:54pm.

Gardeners across the Okanagan are turning to xeriscaping to create low-maintenance dream gardens.  Xeriscaping (zera-scaping) is gardening or landscaping using natural environmental conditions in which you live rather than going against the grain, or fighting against them.  The prefix “xeri” is Greek for the word “dry”.  While we in the Okanagan aren’t quite in the desert, we do like to use our water judiciously.   This style of gardening is about creating wonderful, nearly self-sustaining drought-resistant landscapes.  It also helps with pest control, reduces the need for the use of chemicals and creates a richer habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

In the Okanagan, there are hundreds of bushes, flowering plants and ground cover that do very well with very little water.  Natural vegetation used in our region that does well in a xeriscape is Ponderosa Pine, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, cactus, Rabbitbrush and sagebrushes.

The Okanagan Xeriscape Association in Kelowna is an excellent resource for home owners in Kelowna to consult with. They offer ongoing workshops and classes teaching xeriscape to both experienced and novice gardeners.

There are seven principles of xeriscape that they teach.

Planning & Design

It starts with your imagination and incorporating the elements of your property.  What kind of large trees are there already?  Are on you a slope, a flat surface or water-front property?  Do you have a pool, patio or big shade tree that you need to build around?  Where do you want a pathway in your garden and how much sun do you have during the day?  It helps if you can map out what you want and do it realistically to scale.  This exercise will also help you plan out the sequence of work that needs doing.

Prepare your soil

No matter what kind of soil you have in the yard right now, chances are you need some more organic material to help with moisture retention and to help your plants thrive.  Organic material means things like compost or manure which you can easily order from your local garden centre or even online.

Stake your turf

There is room for grass in your xeriscape but keep it to a minimum.  Grass is thirsty and requires a lot of maintenance.  You only want as much grass as you need – it’s still nice for kids to play on after all.

Grass will grow in about half a foot of good soil with a base of organic material and it needs good drainage.  Don’t plant where there are tree roots because the grass will compete with the tree for water.  Don’t plant where it’s hard to mow it, like a slope.

Smart irrigation

In the planning stages, you will want to place vegetation with similar water requirements in the same zone.  Shade plants need less water, plants that need so additional water and those that need to be watered by hand should all be together.  And speaking of watering, an inch a week should be enough.  You want plants to put down deep roots and watering infrequently will help plants put down those long roots. The Okanagan Xeriscape Association has a plant data base on its website you can refer to.


Decorative in nature, mulch serves another purpose in a xeriscape.  It forms a protective blanket over the soil below, holding in moisture, deterring the development of weeds and protecting roots from super hot or super cold temperatures.  Good mulch is better than landscape fabric.  After a while, roots become enmeshed in landscape fabric.

The association will be holding a plant sale on April 30, 2016 from 9:00 am to noon at the H20 Aquatic Centre at 4075 Gordon Drive in Kelowna.


Leave a Comment