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Xeriscape Gardens: A flourishing garden with minimal water

August, 2017

When you hear the word xeriscape or xeriscaping you may envisage a desert of cacti, succulents, rocks, hardpan dirt and absolutely no flowers. Would you believe there are xeriscaped gardens in Colorado, British Columbia, even right here in St. Albert? Xeriscaping is nothing new, but with our increased attention on water-usage and the environment, this type of gardening is becoming popular, if not necessary.

Xeriscape comes from the Greek word xeros, which means “dry,” and the Anglo-Saxon word schap, which means “view.” Although “dry view” doesn’t instill prettiness in the hearts of homeowners, xeriscaping is a technique that uses trees, shrubs, and native and drought-tolerant plants to save as much water as possible. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to get rid of all your grass. By planning your garden properly and getting expert advice, your xeriscape garden can look green and blooming.

You may want to check the local bylaws or condo rules before digging up your lawn. If you plan to put in structures such as ponds or retaining walls, you may need permission from the city first. Research what plants will be suitable for xeriscaping; a good rule of thumb is to choose ones native to Alberta. Planting trees are also a good option as they create shade and keep ground temperatures cool. If the thought of turning your whole yard into a water-conservative garden is leaving you a little faint, just choose a small section or one garden bed to start.

Putting in some sort of irrigation system is one of the best ways to save water, especially if you’re converting your whole yard. An expert can help you choose and install the system best suited for your needs: a soaker hose, a drip irrigation or sprinkler system. If you choose a hose below ground, make sure it’s buried fairly deep because plants are stronger if their roots have to search further down for water; plants with shallow root systems will dry out more quickly.

Before you plant anything, you’ll need to get your soil ready. This means adding components to help with aeration, drainage, nutrition and water-retention. You can add natural fertilizers such as livestock manure or compost for nutrients. Adding peat moss with help with aeration and water retention. Sawdust, woodchips or ashes help with aeration in clay and sandy soils.

Group plants with the same water needs together. Those that are drought tolerant do well at higher spots, and consider grading areas to channel water to more water-hungry plants. There are different mulches and coverings that will help retain water. Wood chips and bark tend to be popular, as are grass clippings. Gravel can be used instead of mulch or wood chips, but they retain heat and may dry out your soil. When you first plant, you’ll need to water frequently until the plants are established. After that, let the rain do all your watering for you.

St. Albert and Water Conservation

  • In the past 10 years, 4,000 rain barrels have been sold.
  • In 2018, St. Albert will be bringing in a water conservation bylaw. You can read it at:
  • Although St. Albert’s population is rising, water consumption per person has been dropping. In 2010, daily consumption was 266 litres; in 2015, it dropped to 251.8 litres.

Did You Know?

  • Albert Botanical Park has a xeriscape garden, as well as an expert xeriscape gardener who can answer your questions.
  • A xeriscaped yard can add at least 15% to your property’s value.
  • Xeriscaping can save 60 to 80% in water consumption.
  • Roses, peonies, lilacs and lamb’s ears can be planted successfully in a xeriscaped garden.


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