On the Pains of Xeriscaping: Toward Waterwise Living

It’s hard to have an ugly yard in California. Many residents in Southern California pride themselves on lush gardens with blooming flowers and Tennessee Bluegrass, but for environmentally-conscious people, watering thirsty plants in this hot arid land is untenable. Add the challenge of the dry Santa Ana winds from inland that desiccate the land and summer temperatures that rocket to the triple digits for weeks at a time. Basically, transforming a garden to a waterwise feature is not easy in the high deserts of Los Angeles County.

Owing to SoCal’s intense heat, gray water makes inhospitable ground for new plants, even adapted species and natives. The water here is mineral rich, causing calcification to household appliances like dish and clothes washers. One needs imagination to maintain efficiency will modifying a typical garden to a draught-tolerant, water-wise and creature friendly environment. Like all major changes, the transformation is not always easy to bear, to see or experience. Homeowner’s curb appeal may be temporarily reduced. That’s why many people pay gardeners and landscapers to do the work. But not me! I like to feel the dirt under my nails and the strain of my back as work this good earth.

Gardening always embodies mindfulness: One must pay attention to everything. I learned that the earth here is packed solid as rock in summer–especially without persistent watering. The soil is dense and claylike and water does not penetrate the top layer. It remains on the surface until the sun and wind evaporate it midmorning. The earth acts like a terra-cotta planter; roots cannot penetrate the solid surface. This hurts plant roots and hinders growth. All this means a gardener must use plants that will tolerate less water and consolidate plants in areas where water is used efficiently. Even so, to keep such a garden content, soil amendment is required.

Among the challenges of xeriscaping a property is adapting to the local conditions and climate as well as finding plants and arrangements that optimizes water use, while minimizing the demands for potable water, an increasingly scarce global commodity that is essential for life. I don’t mind the awkward transitions; xeriscaping my property gives me hope, because I can model a patient approach to land stewardship that embraces the local environment and creates a sustainable environment for all of us.

A happy draught-tolerant Palo Verde tree after soil amendment for better drainage.

Edissa is cultivating an organic edible garden and xeriscaping her SoCal property.

2 thoughts on “On the Pains of Xeriscaping: Toward Waterwise Living

  1. kmooreart

    As an Arizona resident, I raise my watering can to your efforts to conserve water and totally get the water calcification, ie-caliche. Try adding vinegar or epson salt to the water to help with the water problem. If you have indoor plants, 1T apple cider vinegar per gallon of water helps. Also the book “Gardening with less Water” by David A Bainbridge is full of great suggestions. I hope to see your lovely garden someday.

    1. Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman

      Yes, thank you for the tips. We actually invested in water treatment. Everything just breaks otherwise. Watering less is a personal goal. Our water consumption is listed as “null” by our water company. Mature, native trees help a lot to prevent usage. The plants we put in will require less water once they’re established, so we’re happy to hand water.

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