Integrating Vegetables And Herbs Into The Xeriscape Garden

Integrating Vegetables And Herbs Into The Xeriscape Garden

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Xeriscaping is the process of choosing plants which are compatible with the water conditions of a given area. Since many herbs are native to the hot, dry, rocky regions of the Mediterranean they are perfectly suited for a xeriscape design. The point is to minimize the amount of watering in your herb garden by approximately 30-80%. Xeriscaping is a valuable gardening alternative no matter where your garden is located. The best designs often incorporate vegetables and herbs intermingled with native wildflowers.

Herbs for Xeriscaping

Many herbs thrive in hot, arid conditions and are great for xeriscaping. Consider some drought-hardy herbs when planning your xeriscape herb garden. These may include:

  • Bee balm
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Yarrow
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Russian sage
  • Lamb’s ears

Herbs are plants for all seasons and situations. Herbs are a great asset in a landscape designed for low water use. Most herbs bloom profusely throughout the summer season with very little water.

Vegetable Plants for Xeriscaping

Research heirloom vegetable plants. Learn what used to be grown before the advent of plumbing. There are many vegetables out there that will love your xeriscape climate. Contact your local agricultural extension agency and ask for lists of plants they suggest for your area.

For vegetables that may not adapt as easily to drier conditions, take plastic containers with a few holes drilled in the bottom and bury them at the base of the plants just enough that the tops are still sticking out. Use these for watering. They will remain full for longer periods, reducing your need for continual watering. Check them occasionally to prevent your vegetables from drying out and fill as needed.

Consider growing plants that avoid the drought season. For instance, many vegetable plants have a fast growth cycle and produce crops well before the heat of summer arrives. Plants finished before drought conditions become severe include:

  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Radish
  • Beets
  • Leaf lettuce

Many of these vegetables are such fast growers that they can be planted again in the fall. In the summer, grow drought-tolerant plants. Unbeknownst to many, there are actually a lot of vegetable plants that have excellent drought tolerance. Vegetables such as the following continue to produce even in dry weather:

  • Southern peas
  • Okra
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Muskmelons

Combine vegetables and herbs. For instance:

  • Place tomatoes with basil, horehound, dill, parsley or sage.
  • Try planting peppers with sweet marjoram.
  • Plant squash with borage.
  • Turnips and thyme do well together.
  • Cucumbers enjoy growing next to lemon balm.

You can also include other drought-tolerant or native plants in your vegetable-herb garden for additional interest. For example, native wildflowers such as purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, butterfly weed and verbena provide color in even the driest of weather.

With careful planning, it is possible to have a thriving herb or vegetable garden in a xeriscape environment. There are numerous types of herbs and vegetables that can be successfully incorporated into these water-thrifty landscapes. Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is through then use of raised beds. These make watering easier and allow for looser soil, which enables the roots of plants to reach deep into the ground and better resist drought-like conditions.

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Read more about Xeriscape Gardens


An Introduction to Xeriscaping

Combine the Greek word for dry, "xeri," with the English word “landscaping” and you get "xeriscaping." Although the concept was originally intended for communities that suffer frequently from drought, xeriscaping can be introduced into any yard and can add beauty to your property.

What Is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping's purpose is to reduce water usage and maintenance by transforming the landscape with native plants instead of using varieties that aren't local to your region, which likely need constant attention and watering to survive. One thing xeriscaping is not is patches of grass. It may be difficult to adjust to not having a luxurious lawn, but the less grass you have, the less mowing you need to do, the less water you will need, and the smaller your water bill will be.

Xeriscape vegetation should be able to survive some of the toughest drought conditions for your area, so the best plants for your design should be indigenous to your state or region. You can further reduce water usage by grouping plants with specific water needs together. When using native plants, you will also be able to reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizers and pesticides. You won’t need chemicals to maintain your yard since nature will take care of it for you.

With proper planning and execution, a drought-tolerant yard can also increase the value of your property, and in most cases, the increase in property value will exceed what you spend on the initial project.

What Should I Be Aware Of?

Xeriscaping does require some planning. It is imperative to knowing what planting hardiness zone you live in, so you can easily find plants that will flourish naturally where you live. While the design is the easy part, the initial work to start a xeriscaped yard can be labor intensive—actually laying rock beds and pathways can be backbreaking work. Acquiring a fully drought-resistant yard can also require patience. Often, it can take up to five years to establish a thriving plant bed.

One of the highest costs of xeriscaping a yard can be an irrigation system. Plants do need some water, after all! Drip irrigation is the best because it filters the water into the needed area slowly and goes deep into the soil, giving plants a strong root system. Sprinklers and hoses waste a lot of water through runoff and evaporation, which will throw a wrench in your attempts to lower your water bills. Additionally, runoff from using a hose can pick up trash, bacteria, and motor oil on its way through the drain system, only to dump eventually into the ocean. For these reasons, irrigation systems are the way to go.

Recommended Plants

Researching online or visiting a local green house will help familiarize you with plants native to your area. Local flora is best because it is already adapted to your climate and, as we said already, will require minimal care and watering on your part. That's the whole point of xeriscaping! However, because many perennials (plants that live for two or more years) are drought-tolerant, they can also make an excellent choice for a xeriscaped yard. Again, know your planting zone so you can make educated decisions a perennial in Florida will not survive a winter in Wisconsin. Below is a selection of plants that will survive in more than a few planting zones.

An alternative to the typical high maintenance grass of most lawns is buffalo grass (zones three-11), which grows so slowly that you may not need to mow it all season. Be careful, though—it will not survive in moist or acidic soils.

Another alternative to grass is to use ground covers. These are still very green and in some cases colorful. For example, moss rose (zones five-11) is an excellent ground cover because although it's an annual, it will reseed itself.

Butterfly weed (zones four-11) is a flowering perennial that is well suited to dry, sandy locations. The bright orange flower clusters bloom every spring and can grow to a height of three feet.

You can take your xeriscaped yard to new heights with several tree varieties. Appropriate species include the gray birch, Russian olive, honey locust, and plum tree. Once established, their deep root systems access underground water sources, so they will not require extra watering.


I placed landscaping fabric in the area measured out for the garden and then made the border around the area with the 4x4 border planters. Landscaping fabric is great for preventing weeds and soil erosion from ruining a garden. Roll out and secure your landscaping fabric to the ground with garden staples, u-shaped nails, fabric pegs or garden stakes.


Landscape Plants: Trees, Shrubs, & Flowers

Amy Jo Detweiler | Jun 2020 | OSU Extension Catalog

Amy Jo Detweiler, Stephen Fitzgerald | Aug 2006 | OSU Extension Catalog

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Amy Jo Detweiler | Jul 2015 | OSU Extension Catalog

Amy Jo Detweiler | Aug 2009 | Article

Amy Jo Detweiler | May 2008 | OSU Extension Catalog

Paul MacMillan | Jun 2018 | Publication

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Jul 2018 | Online resource

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Interesting details

Design period details into a food garden to link to a house with historic charm.

When a home is historic, or merely vintage, bring this character into the food garden with picket fencing and beautifully crafted wood towers that double as treillage for climbing vegetables. The designer repeated this vertical element to make each of these identical raised beds a miniature landscape of its own. A south facing exposure has plants arranged by height to ensure all receive plenty of sun. Here, all wood elements are left to weather naturally so that in time the entire character of the garden will look just as old as the house itself.


Watch the video: Veggies in the Landscape