- Planning and Design: Having a water-wise garden takes planning. Instead of considering aesthetics first, take a look at your garden’s topography, exposure, and soil. Don’t try to fight your site. Create planting zones and group your plants by their needs. For example, group tough, drought tolerant plants in areas exposed to full day sun, give less tolerant plants some partial shade and keep the more delicate or demanding plants for a spot near your water source.
- Choose Appropriate Plant Material: You may choose to incorporate a few plants that will need to be coddled, but for the most part, selecting plants that thrive in your area during low water conditions will give you the best results. This often includes native plants that we so often take for granted. The choice of plants will vary by region, even within a single yard. You may also be surprised to see how many plants are considered xeric, once they have established themselves and when properly cared for.
- Soil Improvement: The old adage that if you take care of the soil, the soil will take care of the plants, is very true here. The key, as always, is incorporating generous amounts of organic matter. This will improve water penetration and retention in any type of soil. Rich, loose, water holding soil will encourage good root development and lessen the plant’s need for supplemental water. It is best to amend your soil before planting and to regularly use organic mulch, as mentioned in Step 4.
- Mulch: Mulching is a naturally occurring process, but as gardeners, we tend to want things tidy and we rake away all the leaves and debris that coat and decay into the soil. Instead of using free and leaf mulch, we bring in what we consider more aesthetically pleasing mulch, such as shredded bark and compost. As long as it is some type of organic matter, mulch is a great tool in a water-wise garden. It moderates soil temperature, holds moisture, slows erosion and suppresses weeds that would compete with your plants for food and water. It also gradually decomposes and feeds the soil. Apply about 4 inches of mulch at the initial planting and check it each season to see if it needs to be replenished.
- Practical and Appropriate Turf Grass Areas: Most of us still want some areas of lawn in our landscape and many of us want way too much lawn. Think about how much water, fertilizer, and gasoline it takes to keep your lawn green throughout the summer. Where to place the lawn should be part of your initial design plan, as well as what you plan to use your lawn for. Choose an appropriate grass seed for the lawn’s exposure. Different seeds do well in different regions. Kentucky Bluegrass is beautiful, but it can also be a water hog where it’s not happy. You might want to consider options other than grass. There are ground covers that would be less labor and water intensive.
- Efficient Watering: Not all plants need the same amount of water and those needs may change with the seasons. If you’ve followed the steps above, you have your plants grouped by their water needs, including your lawn, and can water only where it’s needed.
- Drip irrigation systems are often recommended for efficient watering. These systems allow you to control when and how much water a plant gets and to direct the water only to the plants that need it.
Base your watering schedule on the needs of the plants and not on an arbitrary schedule. All plants will require more supplemental watering for the first year or two that they are becoming established. However after they have acclimated and developed a good root system, supplemental watering should become much less frequent.
- Appropriate Maintenance: Yes, even a xeriscape garden will require some maintenance. Watering, weeding, pruning, deadheading, and sensible pest management will all factor into the quality of your garden.
- Environmental Impact of Landscapes
- Role of Landscape Managers
- Recycling and Upcycling
- How to Landscape Sustainably
- Additional Resources
- Xeriscape Design Ideas
- Planning Your Xeriscape Design
- How Xeriscaping Works
- There are many wonderful xeriscape (zir-i-skāp) design ideas for your front and backyard. First, however, let’s start by defining what xeriscape means. Simply put, xeriscape is a water conservation concept that utilizes water savings for your yard, without compromising the attractiveness of beautiful Reno landscaping design.
- Design With Landscape In Mind
- Accent With Plants And Rock
- A Beginner’s Guide to Xeriscaping
- Xeriscaping: How to Make a Drought-Tolerant Landscape
- What is Xeriscaping?
- Building a Xeriscape
- Choose New Plants
- Additional Considerations
Environmental Impact of Landscapes
Urban and agriculture development result in habitat loss that directly impact biodiversity. Removal of vegetation causes loss of protective cover, food, and disturbances in natural processes. As California grows, communities use more resources and generate more waste. Historically, urban landscapes are water intensive and are chemically treated using fertilizers and pesticides, which can runoff into waterways. Maintaining a typical lawn creates noise and air pollution from gas-powered equipment; small engines are among the dirtiest engines allowed in California. Proper management practices will reduce resource depletion, waste generation, and pollution problems while also helping to combat a changing climate.
Role of Landscape Managers
Creating a climate appropriate landscape can be done on many scales including residential or commercial properties through thoughtful planning. Landscape contractors, site managers, and homeowners can play an active role in efficiently managing resources, reducing waste, and preventing pollution. Using sustainable landscape maintenance practices makes good business sense to help reduce costs. With forethought and planning, they can design self-sustaining landscapes that are environmentally sound and beautiful.
Recycling and Upcycling
Recycling materials from the construction, installation, or upkeep of landscape sites will reduce waste. Wood waste coverts to mulch, and plastic pots can be recycled into products for landscape use. Buying recycled-content landscaping products, such as plastic edging or lumber, conserves natural resources and strengthens markets for these recyclable materials. Composting clippings and organic materials on site is encouraged when available. If materials must be removed, they should be transported to local composting facilities for processing.
How to Landscape Sustainably
Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour – California Native Plant Society
Activities that can help support more sustainable and climate appropriate landscapes include xeriscaping, grasscycling, erosion control, water conservation, carbon sequestration, creating habitat, mulching, and composting. To learn more about these topics click on the links below:
Xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is landscaping with slow-growing, drought tolerant and native plants to conserve water and reduce yard trimmings. The practice of Xeriscaping will vary from region to region in California due to variation in climate throughout the state.
Grasscycling. Grasscycling is the natural recycling of grass by leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. Grass clippings decompose quickly and release valuable nutrients back into the soil. This will reduce water and fertilizer usage and green waste generation as well as maintenance costs.
Create Habitat. In even the smallest space, you can create a habitat that encourages birds, pollinators, and other wildlife to thrive. Planting with California natives in your home garden can act as a “bridge,” connecting wildlife to nearby wildlands.
Carbon Sequestration. Carbon occurs naturally in the environment, but is also released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities such as tilling of soil and burning of fossil fuels. Carbon sequestration is the process of pulling carbon from the atmosphere and returning it back to the soil for storage, which can help combat a changing climate.
Erosion Control. Using compost-based erosion control products is a best management practice (BMP), as compost bonds tightly with soil, leaving no gap between soil and cover, which means less opportunity for water to run underneath and undermine the protection.
Mulching. Application of compost and mulch enhances soils by adding organic matter. Mulch will insulate plant roots, reduce weeds, minimize water loss, and control erosion, dust, and mud problems. Decomposition of mulch helps condition the soil and adds nutrients. Adding organic matter increases the water-holding capacity of soils, reducing erosion, and conserving water. Apply 3 to 4 inches of mulch on top of soil surrounding your plants. Keep mulch at least 1 foot away from tree trunks. Replace periodically as organic mulch decomposes over time.
Composting. Many California soils are low in organic matter and high in clay; compost improves the texture of these soils so water can infiltrate more easily, reducing runoff and saving that water for plants. You can make compost at home or purchase it. Mix 1 to 2 inches of compost into clay soils and 2 to 3 inches to sandy soils, to a depth of at least 6 inches.
Water Conservation. Effective and sustainable landscape designs reduce water usage and cost. This can be achieved in many ways such as selecting water efficient plants, irrigation systems, or applying compost and mulch.
- UCANR – Sustainable Landscaping in California
- Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO)
- Bay-Friendly Landscape Guidelines
- Rescape California
- California Irrigation Management Information System
- California Friendly Garden Guide
- Plant Right – Invasive garden plants
- UC Agricultural and Natural Resources County Offices
- UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project
- Water Use Classification of Landscape Species
- Calflora – Wild California Plants
Xeriscape Design Ideas
Most gardeners understand and implement the important elements required for successful landscape planning and design. However, when the design also focuses on xeriscape principles, the need for some of these elements, such as water, will be decreased. The xeriscape planning and design process should not only organize landscape ideas but also identify the specific needs of the plants the gardener wants to use. The best way to accomplish a xeriscape design, as with any other design, is through careful planning and forethought.
Planning Your Xeriscape Design
Here are some things to consider when planning your xeriscape design:
Take notes of problem areas
Take a walk along your property and survey the landscape. Observe and take note of areas that are especially difficult to water and maintain. These areas could include sites such as steep slopes, corners or narrow strips of lawn, rocky areas and water or drought-prone locations. Steep slopes, especially those on south and west exposures, waste water through runoff and evaporation. Drip irrigation that slowly applies water over longer periods of time may minimize runoff. Another idea is to convert these areas to perennials or ground covers that tolerate the exposure and thrive on little water. They are also easier to maintain.
Manage lawn size
Try to size areas of the lawn accordingly. Irregularly shaped areas should be re-shaped to fit irrigation patterns and converted to drip irrigated xeric plantings or hardscape. High-traffic areas in the yard are best left to turf grasses, such as bluegrass, that can take the wear. Xeric grasses, such as buffalo grass, have less wear tolerance but survive on less water. These types of grasses are best suited for low-traffic areas of the lawn.
Other lesser-used areas, however, can be easily transformed into shrub borders, flower gardens and non-turf ground covers that use less water. Designated paths can be implemented with the use of stepping stones or flagstones, with a dwarf ground cover planted among the stones if desired. Look for lawn areas that do poorly because of heavy shade from trees or structures. Rather than keep these areas in traditional lawn grass, plant shade-tolerant grasses or ground covers that tolerate shade. Alternatively, you could incorporate a patio or deck in these areas as well.
Rocky areas of the landscape are easy to fix. These areas can be transformed into beautiful rock garden designs. There are a number of plants that can be successfully grown in rock gardens. As for both water and drought-prone areas of the lawn, consider incorporating your plantings in raised beds. These beds should have an informal planting style with a mixture of drought-resistant shrubs, trees and flowers. This mixture lessens the competition between individual plants and helps ensure that something in the bed is always looking good. The use of planting beds also makes it possible to incorporate organic matter into the soil before planting, promoting healthier soil and healthier plants.
Choose appropriate plants
The best xeriscape designs include both native and drought-tolerant plants. These should always be grouped together according to their specific watering needs. Plants that are less drought hardy, for example, need to be confined to another location of the landscape with other relative plants. The idea is to lessen the need for watering; therefore, you only water what needs to be watered. You should also include some method of drip irrigation in your design plan. Soaker hoses are ideal for watering your garden as they tend to allow water to thoroughly soak into the ground rather than running off as is the case for most sprinkler systems.
There are many ways you can design your xeriscape garden. You don’t need to feel limited to planting only a few types of plants. Xeriscape gardens can be designed in many styles such as Mediterranean or Southwest gardening styles. Select the style most suitable to your landscape conditions to achieve a greater effect. If you choose plants wisely and practice good xeriscape principles, no matter what kind of design you have chosen, you will have a beautiful, thriving xeriscape garden to be proud of.
How Xeriscaping Works
Xeriscaping is a landscaping philosophy that uses as many native, drought-resistant plants as possible and arranges them in efficient, water-saving ways. With the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water predicting that 36 states will experience water shortages by 2013, the idea of Xeriscaping is spreading rapidly to park and gardening center staff as a smart way to save on water .
Despite this, many people don’t know what Xeriscaping is. Those who have never heard the name may already know its techniques, because its principles are commonly used in landscaping and often work well. Some people who are aware of the concept mistakenly refer to it as “zero-scape,” as in the use of no water. Others have a negative perception of Xeriscaping, thinking that the practice involves the use of barren, rocky landscapes and a few cacti.
As it turns out, Xeriscaping doesn’t have to mean a bunch of tumbleweed from the southwest — because it’s open to the use of native plants, a landscaper can select a myriad of plant varieties from his region. A Xeriscaped lawn can look as attractive and colorful as a regular one. If used effectively, the official Denver Water Web site claims Xeriscaping can reduce water use for landscapes by 60 percent or more.
A photo of the prior landscape is compared with the new, Xeriscaped one. Peter Essick/Aurora/Getty Images
Xeriscaping can also save money on future maintenance. Although it may cost more to plan and convert a current landscape into a Xeriscaped one, the operational costs are much lower. The landscape in the above photo, for instance, cost $14,000 to convert, but in two years it nearly paid for itself — it saves $6,000 a year in water.
There are seven essential principles to Xeriscaping — appropriate planning and design, soil improvement, plant selection, practical turf areas, watering, use of mulch and maintenance. We’ll talk a little about each one.
To learn about the seven principles of Xeriscaping, read the next page.
The term xeriscape comes from the Greek word for dry, which is xeros, and scape, which means picture or a view of a type of scene. Many people think of xeriscape in terms of zero-scape. Meaning boring desert-like landscape designs. However, xeriscape design ideas are just the opposite. They are vibrant and colorful and picture an oasis-like setting. Originally xeriscape was started in dry, drought areas with low levels of rainfall. However, you can now find xeriscape ideas in all fifty states. Utilizing a xeriscape plan for your Reno landscaping can possibly reduce your residential water usage by as much as 60%. Plus the added benefit of lower maintenance costs.
Design With Landscape In Mind
You should always design your xeriscape plan to match your regional climate and soil conditions. This is especially important for landscaping designs in Reno and surrounding areas since we experience different and sometimes unexpected weather changes. When planning your xeriscape ideas, soil preparation and testing how your soil interacts with water is the first and most important planning foundation. Prepping the soil may involve a variety of items. Removing a portion or all of your existing lawn, followed by pre-emergent weed and pest control in the soil. Spending the necessary time to amend your soil to create good aeration and a nutrient balance will definitely pay off in the end.
Slope or grade is a big consideration. Steep slopes, especially those on south and west exposures, wastewater through runoff and rapid water evaporation. When designing your xeriscape yard, make sure any lawn or turf areas are shaped efficiently for the least amount of water overspray.
Accent With Plants And Rock
Plant selection is also very important when planning out xeriscape ideas for your yard. It is important to choose the right plant, placed in the appropriate areas and grouped together according to watering needs. Using mulch around the plant areas will keep the water in the soil closer to the roots, which will reduce moisture evaporation, thus minimizing the amount of water that will be needed. A well thought out irrigation drip system is crucial when it comes to xeriscape ideas. You want to use a zoned system that will best deliver the right amount of water to the plants and trees with the least amount of waste.
Boulders and colored rock are a wonderful addition to any Reno landscaping design. They not only provide a no maintenance addition, but they also add depth, height, and color to the yard. Xeriscape designs can be an oasis of beauty added to your house and yard. The water conservation can be tremendous as well as the long-term maintenance. If planned out and prepared properly, you will have a low-cost, low maintenance wellspring of beauty which you and your neighbors will enjoy for years to come.
Want some more inspiration? Check out our post on creative ways to incorporate pavers into your landscape.
For more information on garden lawn designs or Reno landscaping, call Antonucci Lawn and Garden at 775.841.5296.
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Xeriscaping refers to landscaping with the goal of conserving water. The word itself is a combination of the words “landscaping” and xeros-, the Greek root for “dry.” You can think of it as “dryscaping,” or landscaping for regions that receive very little natural rainfall.
The word xeriscape was coined by researchers from Colorado State University, the Denver Water Department, and the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. After a particularly severe drought in 1977, those three groups collaborated to find the best practices for conserving water in home landscapes.
If you’re considering xeriscaping your landscape, below are some tips to help you get started:
- Make a plan. This may seem obvious, but without at least a basic plan, you may find yourself putting far more time and effort into xeriscaping your lawn than you really ought to. Make a rough map of your yard and mark it off into well-defined areas where you intend to put different plants. Try to group together plants with similar water needs so that you don’t end up having to micromanage watering for each and every plant. Consider converting your yard in phases. That will allow you to test out different ideas and techniques incrementally, rather than committing yourself to a full-scale renovation all at once.
- Check your slope. Steep slopes create run-off and contribute to evaporation, wasting water that could be feeding your plants. Leveling an uneven yard is one solution. Another is adding drought-resistant ground cover, like sedum, or planting trees to increase shade.
- Remove unwanted sod. Pulling up the sod you want to replace can be backbreaking, time-consuming work. An easier method is to cut a trench between sod you want to keep and sod you want removed, then treat the unwanted sod with an glyphosate herbicide. Make sure you don’t do this on a day when the forecast calls for rain, as runoff could carry the herbicide to other parts of the yard or into other water sources. If you want a non-chemical alternative, try covering your lawn with several layers of tarp for several weeks to cut off the supply of rain and sunlight from the grass.
- Prepare your soil. Soil composed of too much sand or clay will lose water and nutrients too quickly to support much greenery. Ideally, your soil should contain a good balance of sand, silt and clay. Applying organic matter or a soil amendment can help restore the balance of your soil.
- Plant for conservation.The most basic xeriscaping practice is to substitute plants that are habituated to dry environments for plants that require a great deal of water. In particular, traditional grass lawns make for water-intensive landscaping. Replacing thirsty grasses with more drought-resistant plants can reduce water usage and lower your bills. To get you started, here are some plants that are good for xeriscaping:
- Full sun ground cover: Sedum, creeping juniper, creeping phlox, veronica, lavender, several thyme varieties, several yarrow varieties;
- Partial shade ground cover: Periwinkle, wintercreeper;
- Ornamental grasses: Maiden grass, switch grass, sea oats, bluestern, buffalo grass, sedges, rushes, bamboo;
- Flowers and garden plants: hyssop, mints, columbine, hollyhock, coreopsis, baby’s breath, iris hybrids;
- Trees and shrubs: boxelder, ponderosa pine, apricot, big sage, barberry, juniper, sumac;
Take a look at our plant guide for more details on varieties and suitability and look for plants with low water requirements. For suggestions tailored to your region, contact your local extension office.
- Apply mulch. In addition to discouraging weeds, properly applied mulch reduces the water needs of some plants by keeping their root systems cool. As they decompose, organic mulches, such as straw, compost or wood chips, can also help improve the quality of your soil. If you prefer an inorganic mulch, choose a fabric or fiber mat, as those allow water to better reach the roots of plants.
- Finally, adjust your irrigation practices. If you have a sprinkler system installed, check to make sure that it’s provided adequate coverage, with as little overlap as possible. Make sure you’re not wasting water on hardscaping features like paths or driveway. Occasional deep watering will do more to support your plants than frequent but shallow watering.
A Beginner’s Guide to Xeriscaping
A xeriscape is a landscaped area specifically designed to withstand drought conditions and reduce water consumption. The term was developed by Denver Water in 1981 by joining xeros, the Greek word for dry, with landscape. (It should not be confused with zeroscaping, which uses lots of rocks and only a few plants to create a landscape that requires little water.) Xeriscapes use native and water-efficient plants and then groups these plants together based on their water needs so they can be watered efficiently.
Arid, Transition, and Oasis Zones
The practice of xeriscaping varies from region to region. However, basic principles are generally followed no matter where you live. The first thing you will need to decide is if you want to adjust your existing landscape to be more conservative with water or design and construct an entirely new landscape. Either way, you should analyze your yard and decide what areas will become arid zones, transition zones, and oasis zones. The three types of zones allow you to group plants together that have the same water requirements.
Arid zones should be farthest away from the house and high-traffic areas. An arid zone will either be left in its natural state or planted with native and drought-tolerant plants. Transition zones will combine the drier areas with the more lush zones of your yard. This zone will take advantage of low and moderate water use plantings that need infrequent supplemental watering. Oasis zones should be nearer to the house where they can take advantage of rainfall runoff from the roofline and gutter downspouts.
Xeriscape Grass Options
Most people think that converting a yard to xeriscape means that you have to get rid of all your grass. This is not true. When you xeriscape, you reduce the amount of grass in your yard to only what you need and use. For areas where you want or need grass, you have two choices. Warm season grasses such as buffalo grass and blue grama are very water-conservative, but not very hardy under foot traffic. These grasses do not need as much water and are perfect in areas that do not get a lot of use, such as a sunny front lawn. Cool season grasses, like Kentucky bluegrass, are much more tolerant to foot traffic, but require more water to stay green. Use cool season grasses in areas where your children or pets frequently play.
Reducing the overall amount of grass you have in your yard is also important. If you have heavily shaded areas, consider planting shade-tolerant groundcover such as vinca or sweet woodruff in that area instead of grass. Replacing grassy areas such as steep slopes or the area between the sidewalk and the street with drought-hardy groundcovers or low-water perennials will not only save water, but eliminate troublesome mowing areas.
Drip Irrigation Installation
For areas of your yard that will require watering, it’s best to install a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation delivers water slowly at or near the surface of the soil. It can reduce water consumption by as much as 60 percent when compared to sprinkler systems because it minimizes the quantity of water lost to runoff, wind, and evaporation. You can purchase installation kits for drip irrigation systems online or at most nurseries and garden centers.
Soil Care for Xeriscaping
If your soil is primarily clay or sand, you may need to amend it so it will absorb and retain moisture, which is essential for xeriscaping. Although clay soil retains moisture well, it is slow to absorb it. Clay soil also tends to be heavily compacted, which makes it difficult for plants to survive during a drought. Sandy soil is exactly the opposite. It drains well, but does not retain moisture, which gives the roots little time to absorb the water. Either type of soil can be amended by adding organic materials, such as compost or manure. Soils are amended by blending the material at least six inches deep either by hand or with a rototiller.
You might want to consider having your soil tested for organic and nutrient content before adding any organic materials. This will ensure that you know what organic materials to add and help you choose the right plants for your soil. Testing kits can usually be found at your local nursery or home improvement store. If you do not want to hassle with amending your soil, you could consult with a horticulture expert and choose plants that will tolerate the type of soil in your yard.
The type of plants that you choose for your xeriscaping project will depend upon where you live. Native plants are usually chosen because they are naturally capable of tolerating the climate, but those are not your only options. Plants from other areas of the world that are also drought-tolerant or live in similar climates can also be used. It is important to note that plants will only be drought-tolerant once they have become established. This means more watering than usual should be done the first year or two after planting to help establish deep roots. You should also take care not to crowd plants, which would require them to compete for water. Annuals should be planted at least twelve inches apart, and perennials should be planted about 18 to 24 inches apart.
Once you have everything planted, it’s time to add mulch. Mulch is an essential part of a xeriscape because it minimizes evaporation, reduces weed growth, and helps control erosion.
Organic mulch is wood-based. It helps improve the soil texture by decomposing over time, but this means that it will eventually need to be replaced. Organic mulch should be about three to four inches deep and should always be placed directly on top of the soil. Inorganic mulch is stone-based. Because it usually retains heat, it should not be used in sunny areas. Inorganic mulch can be placed on the soil or over a weed barrier fabric about two to four inches deep. Never apply mulch over black plastic because the plastic does not allow for moisture and air to penetrate and will kill useful organisms in the soil.
The last step is to maintain your yard. Luckily, maintaining a xeriscape is a lot easier than maintaining a regular yard. First, you spend much less time watering a xeriscape. In addition, xeriscapes usually have fewer problems with pests and disease and usually need less fertilizer. Using fewer pesticides and fertilizers is another benefit to both the environment and your pocketbook. This means that by transforming your yard into a xeriscape you get to save time, money, and the environment. Who could ask for more than that?
Xeriscaping: How to Make a Drought-Tolerant Landscape
Editor’s Note: Changes made on November 15, 2017
No matter how advanced our technology and understanding of the world becomes, we can’t control the weather. But unlike the many ancient civilizations wiped out by drought, we do have the means to make informed guesses about what’s coming and respond accordingly.1
For the regions of Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California that are still recovering from a harsh multi-year drought2, the future looks grim.
Scientists predict the Southwest and central Great Plains regions could be plagued by a 35-year or longer mega-drought that dwarves all the droughts the regions have previously experienced.3 The warning bell’s been rung, and the time has come for local residents and governments to respond.
While we can’t give up on drinking water and residents have little control over the amount of water used in farming, we do have one obvious water-wasting habit to reconsider: our lawns.
Approximate one-third of all American residential water goes to landscaping and gardening. Keeping the nation’s lawns fertile required about 9 billion gallons of water daily.4
Bringing that number down doesn’t mean giving up on the beauty of a lawn, but it does require a different approach. This guide is designed to explore the many options to create a water-friendly landscape, from plant selection to irrigation considerations, and cover much more along the way.
What is Xeriscaping?
Xeriscaping isn’t so much a specific technique as it is a unique approach to landscaping that carefully considers the ecological context of each space. The term, coined by Denver Water in 1981, is a combination of the word landscaping and the Greek word for dry, and focuses on seven key principles to create drought-resistant landscapes.5
Planning one of the most important principles on the list, and encompasses many of the others. Taking the time to understand the space you’re working with and research the most efficient options is necessary for any successful xeriscaping project.
The quality of the soil plays an important role in the success of any lawn or landscape. What will work best in each case depends on factors like the quality of the soil you’re starting with, the area you live in, and what plants you intend to use. Any xeriscaping project you take on should start with a soil analysis.
Strategic watering is a crucial part of xeriscaping. Determining the best irrigation solution for your yard will depend on the space and the particular plants you choose. A general best practice is to water plants in the morning, while the weather is cool but the sun isn’t strong enough to evaporate water. Watering plants at night can result in fungus and mold growth.6
Strategic Plant Groupings
No matter what plants you go with, you can save water and make maintenance easier if you’re strategic about how you group them. Place plants near to those that need similar amounts of water and sun for best results.
Use of Mulches
Mulch should be used in addition to the soil to help cool the plants’ roots and slow down the process of water evaporation.
Native Plant Selection
Any plants that grow naturally in your region will be well adapted to the local weather. By sticking with native varieties, your landscape will require less watering and less overall maintenance.
Understand what your plants need and give them the level of watering and care required without wastefulness.
Each of these principles taken alone can help you reduce the amount of water you use for your lawn, but taken together they can help launch you toward a fully drought-proof landscape.
Building a Xeriscape
As in most things, xeriscaping your landscape will be much easier if you hire an expert to help with the process. However, all the steps we describe are possible to accomplish on your own, and we’ll do our best to provide you much of the information you’ll need if you choose to go the DIY route. But taking advantage of the expertise of someone with ample experience in xeriscaping is likely to result in a nicer looking landscape that can save you money and stress.
Consider Your Space
Every landscape is a little different, so you need to take into consideration factors such as:
- Which areas of your yard get the most sun? Which are in shade much of the day?
- When it rains, where will the water run and collect? Is the space fairly flat, or are there slopes to consider?
- Where are your water sources?
Before you start planning what will go where, you need to have a clear idea of what plants and items will make the most sense in each spot based on the particular conditions.
Get Rid of the Old
If your current garden is full of grass (or weeds), there’s some prep work to be done before building a xeriscape. Before you can create an all new drought friendly landscape, you have to get rid of what’s there. And you can’t just remove the grass itself, you have to dispose of the roots as well. Otherwise the grass may grow back and destroy your new xeriscaped lawn.7 You have a few options for how to go about this:8
- By hand: This is the most labor-intensive option, but also the most affordable. You can dig the lawn up with a shovel or use a tiller to make the process a little easier (and keep more of the soil’s nutrients intact).9
- Solarization: This takes longer, but requires less work. If you water your lawn and then cover it with a clear plastic tarp for several months, the sun will kill all the weeds and grass for you. The plastic has to be clear- black plastic will make grass go dormant and come back to life once there’s sunlight.
- Herbicide: While the quickest and easiest way to kill grass and weeds, herbicide comes with some risks. It can have negative effects on the environment and be dangerous to work with if you don’t use it carefully and according to the instructions.
Prepare the Soil and Mulch
If you’re using nothing but native plants, you may be able to use the soil that’s already in your yard without amendments. If you bring in any new soil or non-native plants, adding some form of compost will both enrich your soil so your plants grow better, and help it retain water.
In addition to compost, you should add a thin layer of mulch on top of the soil, around 2-4 inches depending on the type of mulch you use. Using mulch will conserve moisture in the soil and keep it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. As an added benefit, mulch helps suppress weeds so you won’t have as much work to do in the yard. 10
Set Up Your Irrigation
How you water plays a big role in how much water you end up using for your landscape. You have a few options to help you set up responsible irrigation that minimizes water use.
Drip irrigation is a much more efficient form of watering plants than using sprinklers. Using plastic pipes with several strategically placed emitters (the holes in the pipes where the water comes out), you can distribute a low flow of water to your plants over time. By watering your landscape more slowly, the soil has more time to soak the moisture in. You’ll also prevent water waste from runoff.
To reach this level of efficiency, you have to carefully regulate the amount of water used and your watering schedule.
Smart Irrigation Systems
With most irrigation systems, you’ll still have to do the work of paying careful attention to the weather and manually tweaking the amounts of water used based on need. If you’re willing to invest in a smart irrigation system, 11 all that work is automated.
A smart controller is designed to recognize weather conditions through methods like downloading weather information or utilizing sensors that track the amount of moisture in the air. Based on that data, they change the amount of water distributed to your yard automatically.
Rainwater harvesting isn’t an irrigation system in and of itself, but it can be a valuable part of one that helps further reduce water waste. You can buy cisterns to collect rainwater as it falls and make use of your roof and gutters to capture even more of it.12 While a rainwater harvesting system can have a significant cost upfront, installing one will help you avoid water waste and can pay off over time through savings on your water bill.
Choose New Plants
You don’t have to do away with grass when xeriscaping your landscape, but once you start reviewing your options for drought-resistant plants you may see little reason to keep it.
The number and variety of plants that can thrive with minimal water will likely surprise you. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center has a list of almost 100 different drought-friendly plants you can browse.
You should also consider what plants are local to your area. The reasons to go native in the plants you choose are numerous:
- Because they’re adapted to the local weather condition, native plants need less water and maintenance, and you can largely avoid using pesticides or fertilizers.
- Some native plants are going extinct because due to urban development and an influx of foreign plant species. By planting them in your landscape, you can support their continued survival.13
- Native plants support local pollinators and provide food and shelter for the local ecosystem.
- Native plants promote regional biodiversity .
- Native flowers often attract butterflies, so you get an extra dose of color and beauty added to your landscape.14
Wherever you’re located, you should have a large selection of native plants to choose from. Talk to local landscapers or gardening experts to gain a clear idea of which local plants are the most popular and hearty, and when to plant each for the best results.
You can also find an index of plants organized by state or region at PlantNative and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
How Much Does Xeriscaping Cost?
Managing the cost of xeriscaping can be tricky. As with many things in life, you have to shoulder an upfront investment to save money over time. If you’re interested in a new DIY project, you can manage much of the work on your own and save a lot of money in the process. If you’re not, or if you really just want to make sure it’s done right, you can discuss your budget limitations with local landscaping companies to better understand what’s possible within your price range.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to offset some costs through government rebates. If that’s not yet an option in your area, you can always start with smaller projects. Schedule an audit of your irrigation system, or replace a few of your plants with drought-resistant ones with the goal of eventually working toward a fully drought-resistant lawn.
Even as drought conditions worsen and the environmental benefits of xeriscaping become clearer, many people are resistant because they worry the upfront costs will be too high and that xeriscaped lawns just aren’t as beautiful as their grassy counterparts.
Both of these concerns are understandable, but neither is as much of a problem as people think.
When you start looking into your xeriscape options, you’re likely to find local flowers in almost every color you could want and plenty of plants to replace that green grass you loved. Also, cutting your monthly water bill by 20% or more means your new landscape can pay itself off very quickly.
The stereotypical image of a xeriscaped yard that many people carry is of rocks and cacti, but you have plenty of options besides that. You can also find water-friendly plants in all sorts of shapes and colors, and come up with lots of ways to design a rock, stone, or wood chip path to replace your grass.
A few minutes on Pinterest should leave you with more than enough inspiration to design a beautifully xeriscaped yard of your own. And if design isn’t your strength, you can always hire a gifted landscape designer to help.
Once you really consider the benefits of xeriscaping, the appeal seems obvious. You can save money on utilities, spend less time and energy on maintenance, make your lawn more beautiful and colorful, and increase your home’s curb appeal – all of that while supporting the environment and local ecosystem. Regardless of whether you live in a drought-plagued region or not, xeriscaping can save you money while keeping your yard beautiful.
Xeriscaping may not have conquered the mainstream yet, but unless we figure out a way to control the weather, you can expect to see more grassy lawns replaced by xeriscaped ones in the years to come.
Are you looking to give your yard or garden a drought-friendly facelift? Check out our lists of the best landscapers in cities across the country!
- Denver, CO
- Los Angeles, CA
- Portland, OR
- Nashville, TN