In the southwestern U.S., where dry conditions prevail, successful gardens are designed to require little if any water. Native plants which have adapted to these conditions are often utilized to deal with a dry environment. Generally, native species of plants require less maintenance and need no water other than what is provided by nature. This is true for all climates. Native plants have become accustomed to certain environments and can tolerate even the most harsh conditions. Dry gardens have a character all of their own and that character does not necessarily need to be scarce on foliage, color and lush growth.
Xeriscape is a term coined to describe landscaped gardens that have low water requirements. It is a concept that has become popular in the drier parts of Australia and North America. It uses many of the features of the desert landscape such as mounds and raised beds, but allows for a wider range of design styles. Garden beds are often mulched with organic material such as shredded bark wood chips in order to help the soil retain some moisture. patios and other hardscape elements, furniture and garden structures such as trellises are an important part of a dry garden design.
In desert climates, cacti and succulents can provide a garden with an array of colors. Succulent groundcovers such as sedum can create a carpet of foliage and flowers, while many of the different types of cactus will provide structure and beautifully colored flowers.
A desert landscape garden uses the arrangement and choice of materials to replicate the appearance of desert conditions. Landscape elements in a dry garden could include crushed stone paths and earthwork and stonework which mimics a dry river bed. Weathered trees also help create the appearance of an arid landscape.
Though dry garden conditions are most commonly associated with desert climates, they can also be found where there are very sandy soils which by nature don’t hold water well, under the eaves of a house or against a wall, beneath the canopy of a large tree or on a steep slope, where water is lost due to runoff.
Some of these areas can be improved by amending the garden’s soil and increasing its ability to hold water through the addition of organic matter such as compost and peat moss. Other ways to conserve water include the use of mulch which shades the soil and prevent it from drying out quickly. Also, as previously mentioned, planting the garden with drought tolerant plants and native plants will reduce the garden dependency on supplemental watering.