Re: Xeriscaping
From: Grant McCormick (
Date: Wed, 7 May 2003 19:05:02 -0600 (MDT)


In Tucson, the term "xeriscape" is often inaccurately pronounced as "zeroscape". Interestingly, there's a common form of landscaping here which deserves such a term - typically a few barrel cacti, and perhaps several desert shrubs set in a sea of gravel. This is indeed a recipe for heat build up. Good Xeriscaping in Tucson normally includes significant shading of buildings and the ground near buildings with drought-tolerant trees, thereby reducing the heating effect (regardless of the type of mulch used).

My experience has been that bare soil sheds the most water and will always be the hottest, followed by gravel mulches, and then organic mulches (the most absorbent and cooling). Gravel mulches have been called into question recently, not due not to heat build up, but based on the presumption that gravel doesn't allow water penetration as effectively as organic mulches do. I believe this occurs because much of the decomposed granite (the most common type of gravel mulch here ) has a large amount of fine soil/sand particles mixed in, which fills in pore spaces and reduces percolation.

The best mulch probably depends on the application. Most desert plants have evolved in mineral soils (low organic components) with a ground surface not unlike a gravel mulch. Some feel desert plants germinate best beneath a gravel mulch, and its clear they thrive naturally with little organic matter. For covering relatively large desert areas, gravel mulches are preferable on a cost and longevity basis (they persists almost indefinitely, unlike things such as bark mulch). Organic mulches make the most sense to me where intensive cultivation occurs (e.g., regular watering, adding soil amendments, "improving the soil" and so on with the intent of yielding flowers, produce, or other garden results that won't happen in a purely naturalized garden).

Presumably, appropriate mulching practices will vary depending on regional climate, soils, and gardening goals. Look and see what nature leaves on the ground in your area - this probably gives a good clue as to the appropriate mulch to be used in the majority of your landscape. It seems overly dogmatic to assume, as I've heard from time to time, that one form or another or mulch is categorically the best way to go.

At Sonora, where the Citrus blooms are waning, and the Saguaro blooms are not far off.

At 11:28 AM 5/7/2003 -0500, Becky Weaver wrote:

I think the idea that xeriscaping allows the soil to heat up arises from a
misconception. Real xeriscaping can be wonderfully lush and cool. Here in
Austin we have a summer that's hot and dry, but like most places, even in
the West, it's by no means desert. Here xeriscaping involves a huge variety
of beautiful plants, including lots of shade trees and leafy shrubs.

I suspect Colorado is much the same. People tend to think "sun beating on
cactus" when they hear "xeriscape," but unless sand and cactus are all you
see in the nearest state park, there are many more choices than that. Even
lawn grasses! My xeriscaped backyard has big pecan trees shading the house
(and producing lots of nuts every 2 years), leafy seaoats grass (looks like
miniature bamboo), and native flowers and shrubs. I even grow roses without
extra water - I just had to find the right varieties. The xeriscaped areas
are cooler than the front lawn (which I haven't gotten around to landscaping
yet), and require no extra watering to stay green and leafy all summer. When
the (clay) soil gets dry it cracks and shrinks, and I have remind myself to
water *the house,* to keep the foundation from being demolished. The plants
look so green and happy that sometimes I forget.

Even sandy or shallow soils often have some plants that will grow thickly
and greenly upon them. Xeriscaping just involves making good use of those

Becky Weaver
Central Austin Cohousing

> From: Elizabeth Stevenson <tamgoddess [at]>
> Reply-To: cohousing-l [at]
> Date: Wed, 07 May 2003 07:47:58 -0700
> To: <cohousing-l [at]>
> Subject: Re: [C-L]_Xeriscaping [was: Cohousing available in Colorado Springs
> Somewhere I read that xeriscaping is actually not so great for water use. I
> wish I could back that up, but the general principle is that there is a net
> use of more energy/water because the xeriscaping allows the ground to heat
> up more than grass does, causing a rise in ambient temperature so the
> homeowners need to use more air conditioning and more water to keep the
> plants alive in the higher heat.
> --
> Liz Stevenson
> Southside Park Cohousing
> Sacramento, California
> tamgoddess [at]
>> On Tue, 6 May 2003, Louise Conner wrote:
>>> We at Colorado Springs Cohousing Community are happy to say that we've
>>> completed the construction of our 34 home plus common house community that
>>> goes by the name of Casa Verde Commons.
>> ....
>>> and expecting our xericscaping any day now .
>> What is xeriscaping?
>> Literally, the word xeriscaping comes from a combination of two other
>> words: "xeri" derived from the Greek word "xeros" for dry; and "scape",
>> meaning a kind of view or scene. While xeriscape translates to mean "dry
>> scene," in practice xeriscaping means simply landscaping with
>> slow-growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce yard
>> trimmings.
>> from:
>> [Note that I think the prefered spelling is with one "c" tho
>> I found both in my search.]
>> Fred
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