When the word “xeriscape” or “low maintenance landscaping” comes to mind people often think dirt, dry, and dead. Yet, with the current drought conditions that are plaguing many parts of California and Nevada it is time to broaden the image of what a drought tolerant landscape – otherwise known as xeriscape – truly is. When planned correctly, xeriscape lawns can have just as much color and character as a traditional turf lawn.
The number one key to understanding the below 3 myth busters is understanding that planting requires research. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but truthfully, there are very few blanket statements that are true in all conditions. Xeriscaping is not an exception to the rule. In fact, like any plant you see for sale, natives require a bit of research and knowledge in order to provide the full benefit of low-maintenance ecological design over the long term. There are many resources available, and the upfront work you put in will not only teach you about garden design and your local plant communities, but will also lead a healthier and easier landscape down the road. Now, that’s something every homeowner wants.
It is often this blanket statement “the top benefit of using native plants is that they thrive in drought” that gets people in trouble. There are many plants that are native to an area like an Aspen pine which is definitely not drought tolerant.
With over 7,000 native plant species in the continental U.S., it’s unlikely that a plant native to Florida will work well in a desert garden. There are also countless ecological regions and zones that can affect life cycle and bloom periods.
This is a constant worry from architects homeowners and even nursery managers. While some native plants can spread aggressively, they can also react quite differently when in a more pampered landscape setting.
Soils within a city are so disturbed from construction they rarely represent an undisturbed native soil. Keep in mind, a soil that’s too rich will often lead to plants that are overgrown, flop or otherwise perform poorly.
For all our local readers we have highlighted 3 native and drought-tolerant plants for the Northern Nevada region as found on United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. You can see below that while all three are great xeriscape plants they still require knowledge on where to plant them to match their site conditions with their native conditions.
Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) is well adapted to desert life: with water-loss resistant leaves and long taproots, a bitterbrush plant may be decades old. It is a hardly plant of the wild landscapes of Nevada and the intermountain West.
Rubber rabbitbrush is a perennial shrub that thrives in poor conditions, and can tolerate coarse, alkaline soils. The deep root system establishes quickly and plants produce large quantities of leaf litter, helping to bring nutrients to the soil surface from the deeper rooting profile.
Sagebursh is an emblem of the mountain West with grey leaves and pale yellow inflorescences. It can be found mainly in cold deserts with powdery or sandy soil.