National Garden Month is the perfect time to evaluate if your existing property landscape design is working for you. With New Mexico’s annual rainfall averaging under 14 inches, it’s a smart move to determine how your outdoor space could save you water, time, energy, and money.
New Mexico is divided into three distinct climate regions: north/mountain, central, and south. For our purposes, we will focus mainly on plants and trees that thrive in the central and north/mountain regions.
Xeriscaping: What it Actually Means
People often think xeriscaping means to strip away as many things that need water as possible and replace them with gravel or stone. Xeriscaping is the design of a garden based around native species that thrive in arid climates and require little to no irrigation. When Xeriscaping is done right, it can result in the usage of less than half the water of a traditional planned landscape while still providing a backyard oasis. It increases home value with heightened curb appeal, increased energy efficiency, and reduced utility bills. Xeriscaping benefits pollinators and wildlife while saving homeowners time and money.
Zoning in on Where to Start
Redesigning your outdoor space to be more drought resistant doesn’t have to happen all at once. Plan your xeriscaping makeover in stages using these handy zones:
Zone 1 is your arid zone. This zone is planted furthest from your home and requires the least amount of supplemental watering. Drought-tolerant plants will do well here. If landscaping design is done with forethought, land contouring can direct rainwater toward this zone to provide all the water the plants will need in maturity.
Zone 2, the transition zone, is made up of water-efficient plants that may need slightly more supplemental watering than Zone 1. Zone 2 blends the arid plants of Zone 1 with the lusher plants of Zone 3.
Zone 3 is your ‘mini oasis,’ made up of plants that require the highest water usage. This zone is best located in the shade of the north and east sides of the house, or anywhere that rainwater collects and drains. Think of Zone 3 as your outdoor living space. Small patches of lawn can still be used in xeriscaping in zone 3, as well as lusher plants.
Plants with a Purpose
New Mexico has a wide array of colorful, useful, and handily drought-resistant plants to choose from as you design your xeriscaping paradise. Here are some helpful hints for choosing foliage for its functionality. If you plan cunningly, you can use your shrubs, trees, and groundcovers to work as a balanced ecosystem that will save you time, provide home security, and reduce your energy costs.
Trees, sometimes overlooked in xeriscape planning, are an important feature of drought-resistant gardens and are well-known to add to your property value. Trees will need more watering in the first couple years of their life. However, if you plant them in the right spots, they will eventually reduce irrigation needs as well as energy bills. The shade of their canopy increases soil moisture retention. They will also shade your house, decreasing the need to crank the AC or swamp cooler as often. Plant your trees in low spots in your landscape when possible so rainwater will naturally collect at the base of the trunk. Some trees to consider that thrive in our state are the fast-growing New Mexico olive, the striking Bigtooth maple, the gnarly bristlecone pine, and the silvery blue atlas cedar.
Groundcovers can be swapped for lawns under mature trees when making your yard hardier. Find groundcovers with large spreads to maximize their growth potential in areas where you want to reduce watering and eliminate mowing. Some groundcovers can spread to unwanted areas, so be sure to read up on varieties before putting down roots. Hen and chicks are fun to look at and require almost zero maintenance. Purple iceplant blooms a beautiful magenta color and is uninteresting to deer. Mexican evening primrose appears delicate but is hardy and can form large colonies. Horned violet gives a perennial pop of purple.
Our region is known for some rather pokey plants, often native to desert climates due to their ability to use their spikes to collect and funnel rainwater. You can utilize these natural deterrents as added home security. Mature agave plants, prickly pear, and other cactus varieties can ward off would-be burglars when positioned just right.
Low maintenance shrubs can provide color, pollinator habitat, wind protection, and block unnatural or unsightly features you can’t remove. These accent plants can also create borders and anchor sites for garden design. Consider upright rosemary for its ornamental and edible qualities, blue avena grass for pops of color and height, Woods’ rose for its deer resistance and soil erosion abatement, and lavender-like Russian sage for fragrance.
Things to Remember
New plants will require more watering until they’re established, so be patient with your xeriscaping additions. The goal is to phase out as much supplemental irrigation as possible as your plants and trees mature. Check out the Office of the State Engineer of New Mexico’s Enchanted Xeriscape Guide for a deep dive on plants for your specific climate region and landscaping zones. Make sure to use plenty of mulch wherever possible to improve moisture retention while reducing weed growth and soil erosion. Lastly, consider incorporating outdoor sitting and dining areas to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Image sources: New Mexico Olive, Wikipedia, Photo of Forestiera pubescens at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley, California, Stan Shebs; Bigtooth Maple, Wikipedia, Bigtooth Maple Leaves; Bristlecone Pine, Wikipedia, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA, bristlecone pine cones, Brian W. Schaller; Blue Atlas Cedar, Wikipedia, Male cones beginning to shed pollen, Meneerke bloem; Hen and Chicks, Wikipedia, A hen and chicks close up, Derek Ramsey; Purple Iceplant, Wikipedia, Plant habit, Didier Descouens; Mexican Evening Primrose, Wikipedia, Showy Primrose, ZooFari; Horned Violet, Gardenia, Viola Halo Violet Bloom; Agave, Wikipedia, Agave angustifolia ‘Marginata’; Prickly Pear, Wikipedia, Opuntia littoralis var vaseyi 4, Stan Shebs; Rosemary, Wikipedia, Rosemary in Bloom, Margalob; Blue Avena Grass, Wikipedia, Helictotrichon sempervirens: Habit, Sten Porse; Woods’ Rose, Wikipedia, Rosa woodsii in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, dougwaylett; Russian Sage Lavender, Wikipedia, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Stan Shebs;