20 BUILDINGS 04.15
is good for your utility bill and alleviates
pressure on your local treatment plant.
Xeriscaping also emphasizes plants that
are drought tolerant and hardy against
climate changes. There is a wide range of
vegetation that meets this criteria beyond
succulents. Keep in mind that all plants
need moisture to survive, so don’t expect
any species to eliminate your irrigation
needs altogether, cautions Slovensky.
“To choose water-conserving plants, use
the annual precipitation of your region as
a benchmark and select plants that require
under this level,” Slovensky advises.
2) Stormwater Management
Healthy bedding isn’t just a way to keep
plants flourishing – it’s an important strategy to manage stormwater.
According to the EPA’s WaterSense at
Work guide, “appropriately graded sites
with gentle slopes allow water
to stay where it is applied and
get delivered to the root zone
of plants. Soil health can be
maintained with aeration and
compost or mulch.”
If you need to convert your
grounds to xeriscaping one step
at a time, try tackling lawns first.
Conventional turfgrasses typically require high levels of care
to stay green, notes the Lady
Bird Johnson Wildflower Center,
a research unit at the University
of Austin at Texas.
Select turf that “replicates
nature’s shortgrass prairies,”
the center advises, rather than
non-native species. Better yet would be to
reduce the overall size of your turf by replacing it with a portion of native grasses.
3) Low Maintenance
Traditional landscaping that emulates
gardens requires seasonal pruning, cutting,
tending, mowing, and fertilizing, Slovensky
observes, whereas xeriscaping requires far
fewer resources to grow. That’s because
indigenous vegetation is already suited to
your region’s soil, rainfall, and temperature
fluctuations and consequently doesn’t
require as much human intervention to
Xeriscaping still needs some oversight –
don’t think you can plant it and forget
it, stresses Slovensky. It takes about two
seasons for plants to put down strong
roots, so anticipate that your vegetation
will need a little extra TLC at the beginning
before it needs minimal supervision.
A Fruitful Change
Because xeriscaping transforms your
grounds into a sustainable ecosystem, it’s
unlikely you’ll want to walk into your local
nursery and take on this type of conversion by yourself. It’s best to partner with a
landscape architect who has a xeriscaping
portfolio or a groundskeeping company
with a restoration ecologist on staff who
understands ecology and hydrology,
A landscape professional will evaluate
your site for considerations such as slope,
drainage, plant diversity, animal life, and
air flow that will impact your xeriscape
design, explains Slovensky.
You also need to account for pollutants,
such as parking lot runoff that could contain litter, salt, sand, and vehicle fluids, she
adds. Not all dirt is created equal, so even
if your site has low levels of contaminants,
soil quality should be tested and amended
A Stroll through the NREL Campus
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO, takes its role
as a federal leader seriously. Not only does
the South Table Mountain campus highlight clean power initiatives, it ensures that
its environmental footprint is sustainable
all the way down to a single blade of grass.
The over 300-acre site has three
landscaping zones, the majority of which
is based on the principles of xeriscaping,
explains Slovensky (see images at right).
NREL submitted 30 acres to the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a certification
program for landscaping similar to LEED.
The site earned three stars for prioritizing
site selection, human health, soil, water,
vegetation, and maintenance.
Jennie Morton jennie.morton@buildings.
com is senior editor of BUILDINGS.
If your landscape’s water requirements have become a thorny issue, try switching to xeriscaping. This landscaping
method uses native plants that will flourish
in your climate without excessive irrigation
or maintenance needs.
Far more than rocky landscapes filled with
cacti, xeriscaping can be ripe with lush and
colorful plant life. Rather than ornamental
plants that aren’t suited to your climate,
xeriscaping focuses on native or naturalized
vegetation with low water needs.
“Don’t evaluate xeriscaping from a
1) Water Conservation
gardening perspective,” cautions Michelle
Slovensky, senior sustainability project
manager with the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory (NREL). “Rather than
selecting species for their aesthetics, you
are developing a vegetation community.
Xeriscaping supports stormwater manage-
ment and conserves resources.”
Xeriscaping has three main objectives.
The main benefit of xeriscaping is that
plants are selected to conserve water. According to the EPA, landscape water use
for commercial properties can be as high
as 22% for office buildings and up to 28%
Consider the growing use of muncipal
impact fees that ensure cities can support expanding infrastructure demands,
Slovensky notes. Those costs are passed
on to end users, particularly high-volume
The Principles of Xeriscaping
Use native plants for sustainable groundskeeping