The types of plants used in xeriscaping are often as varied in form as the landscape designs they populate. Xeriscaping encourages low-maintenance gardening through water-saving techniques, so all plants used for this type of gardening should have at least one of two important characteristics: they should be native to the area, or they should be drought tolerant. Although the term xeriscaping may have once invoked images of dry, colorless rock gardens, xeriscape gardens may actually include a wide range of plants that offer a variety of forms and functions in the landscape, including wildflowers, ornamental grasses, succulents, and even trees and shrubs.
Plants native to the particular geographical region are ideal for use in xeriscaping because they are already accustomed to the climate of the area, and are therefore much more likely to grow, thrive, and survive with little care in that region. As a result, the ideal xeriscape plants will vary according to location. Native plant lists or databases may be obtained by consulting local universities, conservation groups, or environmental government agencies.
Flowering plants that exhibit lots of color are a vital addition to xeriscape gardens. When gardeners choose appropriate flower varieties, native wildflowers are an ideal choice. Native wildflowers may also be attractive to local wildlife. Several common varieties of flowering plants are recognized as drought tolerant in a wide range of climates and would therefore serve as appropriate xeriscape plants in many areas. Among them, coneflowers, asclepias or "Butterfly weed," sunflowers, and sage are some of the more common.
Ornamental grasses are also valuable xeriscape plants. Larger varieties can grow up to 7 feet (2.13 meters) tall or more, creating an interesting focal point or anchor in a landscape design. Shorter varieties can serve as excellent erosion control or even ground cover. Ornamental grasses can be found in a variety of colors and forms, but it is important to note that not all ornamental grasses are drought tolerant, and not all types will survive in any given region. Common ornamental grasses recognized as drought tolerant include maidengrass, festuca, wheatgrass, and blue oat grass.
Succulents are popular xeriscape plants because they are generally well-equipped to thrive in areas with little water or rainfall. As water-retaining plants, succulents are able to store water in their leaves, stems, or even roots, allowing them to survive for long periods in dry, arid climates. The wide variety of forms and colors of succulents available makes them an excellent choice for many garden needs and situations. Succulents are generally not fond of humid climates, however, so they may not be a good choice for xeriscape gardens located in regions with extended periods of humid weather, such as the Southeast region of the United States. Common succulents include cacti, agave, aloe vera, and jade.
Trees and shrubs are an important addition in any landscape, providing shade in hot, dry months, attracting local wildlife, and adding erosion control, among other benefits. Native trees and shrubs are best for xeriscaping, and drought-tolerant varieties of many different types of common trees and shrubs can be found in nearly every geographic region. Care should be taken in planting trees and shrubs, though, as they may need a year or two to establish strong root systems before they are truly able to withstand dry conditions without constant watering. Trees and shrubs known for exceptional resistance to drought include Scotch Pine, Juniper, sumac, and ninebark. Bamboo is also a good choice in some climates.
Ultimately, xeriscape plants should be low-maintenance varieties carefully selected for the environment in which they will be planted. Each plant should also be carefully placed in the landscape for optimum light, soil, and moisture requirements. With a little research and planning, it is possible to create an interesting xeriscape garden that is not only low-maintenance and ecologically sound, but also beautiful.