You don’t need a carpet of green grass to make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood. With a bounty of benefits, xeriscaping is a beautiful, water-wise landscaping alternative that’ll make your yard pop while protecting the environment.
So don’t reseed your thirsty turfgrass lawn just yet! Let’s take a look at what makes xeriscaping an eco-friendly, money-saving landscaping option.
- What is xeriscaping
- 10 benefits of xeriscaping
- 1. Conserves water
- 2. Saves money
- 3. Gives you access to financial incentives
- 4. Attracts future buyers
- 5. Saves time
- 6. Promotes biodiversity
- 7. Extends the life of water resources infrastructure
- 8. Reduces or eliminates chemical needs
- 9. Decreases energy use and pollution
- 10. Gorgeous and fun to garden
- Principles of xeriscaping
- Cons of xeriscaping
- No zeroes for xeriscaping
What is xeriscaping
Xeriscaping (pronounced zeh-ri-skayp-ing) is the process of creating a landscape that requires little to no watering. It comes from the Greek root “xeros,” meaning “dry,” and it’s all about designing a sustainable space based on your specific region and climate.
Xeriscaping doesn’t mean getting rid of all your turfgrass, but it does mean rethinking where you need it, how much you need, and whether you can replace some with a more drought-friendly option.
Xeriscaped lawns include:
- Drought-resistant and drought-tolerant native plants (like cacti and desert flowers)
- Hardscape features, like footpaths, pavers, patios, and fire pits
10 benefits of xeriscaping
Sick of seeing your water bill skyrocket in summer? You don’t have to live in the desert to benefit from xeriscaping.
No matter where you live, you can benefit from xeriscaping your yard.
1. Conserves water
Xeriscaping is key for water conservation: Native plants (plants specifically adapted to your region, climate, and soil type) require much less water than turfgrass, and many don’t need any additional water. Plus, hydrozoning (grouping plants based on water requirements) reduces overwatering and underwatering.
Within 50 years, many regions of the U.S. could see their freshwater supply reduced by as much as one third. Xeriscaping alleviates the potential for water shortages: When less water is used on lawns, more water can be conserved for drinking.
The results? In California, some homeowners are saving more than 120 gallons of water each day. Homeowners who xeriscape in Flagstaff, AZ, save an average of 8,000 gallons of water each year, which puts $275 back in their pockets.
2. Saves money
Xeriscaping can reduce your water bill by up to 80 percent. Plus, if you opt for native plants, you won’t have to fork over cash for gas to fill your lawn mower or fertilizer for your grass. Xeriscaping can decrease your yearly lawn maintenance costs by a whopping 87 percent.
A strong xeriscape design confines your grass to one zone so you can water, fertilize, and mow as needed within that space. The rest of your yard can flourish with few or no additional costs.
Native plants and rocks cost a lot less than sod or artificial grass, so if you’re struggling to grow a traditional green lawn, xeriscaping is a low-maintenance alternative that won’t break the bank.
3. Gives you access to financial incentives
Many local governments offer rebates and bill reductions for homeowners who choose to xeriscape. Southwestern cities and towns, including Las Vegas, NV; Aurora, CO; and Los Angeles, CA, offer rebates (“cash for grass” programs) to encourage you to rip out your sod and replace it with a low-water landscape.
Even if you don’t live in the Southwest, your city or township may provide financial incentives to replace your grass lawn with a xeriscaped landscape. Check your local government’s website to see if you could qualify for a rebate.
4. Attracts future buyers
Xeriscaping can increase your property value by 14 percent, and it’s growing in popularity as a more sustainable type of landscaping. If you’re looking to increase your curb appeal and catch the eye of savvy house-hunters, you might want to consider xeriscaping.
5. Saves time
Xeriscaping means less watering, mowing, and weeding, so you can relax and do what you love over the weekend.
Drought-tolerant ground covers, perennial flowers, succulents, shrubs, and trees generally require infrequent watering (once every two to three weeks), and some rugged native plants don’t need any watering at all once they’re established.
While xeriscapes aren’t entirely maintenance-free, you can put the mower away and give the weeding gloves a rest: Most ground covers (like sedum and sage) only require trimming, and mulch and rocks will prevent most weed growth.
6. Promotes biodiversity
As many native animals and insects face habitat loss, your xeriscape can be the home and food source they need. Native plants attract beautiful pollinators like butterflies, bees, and birds, so you’ll soon have a colorful show in your own backyard.
Here are some of the best wildflowers to attract butterflies and bees:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Common madia (tarweed)
- Arroyo lupine
- Purple coneflower
The National Wildlife Federation’s native plant list will show you all the best flowers for your area to get butterflies fluttering into your yard.
7. Extends the life of water resources infrastructure
When you use less water, you help preserve the quality of reservoirs, water treatment plants, and aquifers. That means that taxpayers (you) don’t have to spend as much on damages, repairs, and restructuring.
8. Reduces or eliminates chemical needs
Native plants used in xeriscapes are specially adapted to your region, so you won’t need to apply fertilizer or harmful pesticides. They’re experts at handling your specific soil type and weather patterns, and they’ll resist local pests and diseases.
Rock cover also decreases your need for chemical treatments — there’s no need to fertilize your boulders, and you’d look pretty silly spraying your gravel with herbicide!
9. Decreases energy use and pollution
The energy needed to treat water, power a lawn mower, and manufacture fertilizer puts a strain on the environment and stresses your local ecosystem. Xeriscaping cuts back on energy use so fewer fossil fuels are burned, more water is stored for future use, and fewer pollutants enter your watershed.
10. Gorgeous and fun to garden
Xeriscapes are great for conserving water and energy, but they’re also simply beautiful. Many homeowners choose to xeriscape because gardening brings them joy and they love spending time in a soothing space filled with flowers, butterflies, and beautiful stones.
Planting a rock garden, designing an edged patio, or creating a wildflower-filled sanctuary (complete with a chair or bench for reading) can be rewarding and fun, and it might just inspire your neighbors to follow your example.
Principles of xeriscaping
What makes a lawn a xeriscape? It comes down to seven key principles.
- Planning and design
- Soil improvements
- Efficient irrigation
- Limited turf use
- Choosing drought-tolerant and drought-resistant plants
The city of Denver compiled these tenets in response to water shortages in the 1980s. Today, they’re the foundations of a water-wise, sustainable lawn.
Planning and design
A xeriscaped lawn makes use of hydrozoning: Grouping plants into zones based on their water and sun requirements. When you cluster together plants with similar needs, you minimize water waste and reduce overwatering and underwatering.
Find design inspiration in our list of xeriscape ideas.
It’s important to test your soil and make the necessary amendments for your specific xeriscape before you plant. Some plants require rich, loamy soil, and you may need to add compost and organic fertilizer.
Instead of oscillating sprinklers that spew water high in the sky, xeriscapes make use of drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses, which minimize evaporation by delivering water directly to plant roots.
Limiting turf use
Xeriscapes don’t have to be grass-free, but they use turfgrass wisely and only when needed. You can keep a swath of Kentucky bluegrass in your backyard for kids and pets to play, and replace the rest of it with lower-water grass, native plants, or a rock garden.
Mulch is a lawn miracle worker. It keeps roots cool in summer, insulates soil in winter, retains soil moisture, protects against weeds, and prevents erosion. A thick layer of mulch is essential for a healthy xeriscaped lawn or garden.
Choosing drought-tolerant and drought-resistant plants
Xeriscaping is all about lowering the energy and maintenance needs of your lawn. Drought-resistant and drought-tolerant plants require little water use, and native plants don’t need expensive fertilizer or harsh pesticides. Our list of the best plants for xeriscaping can help you find the right plants for your area.
Xeriscapes require weeding, pruning, trimming, mulching, and some watering to stay in peak condition. Soil should be aerated every year or every few years (depending on your soil type) and tested every three to five years.
Cons of xeriscaping
Xeriscaping is an excellent, eco-friendly landscaping choice, but there are some drawbacks to consider before you start ripping out your sod.
- Reduces your turfgrass area, so kids and pets don’t have as much space to play. If you have young children, you may want to hold off on xeriscaping to give them room for kickball games and pool parties, or you can xeriscape a smaller portion of your yard.
- Can be expensive and time-consuming to install. You’ll have to remove turf, spread thick layers of compost and mulch, hydrozone, install a drip irrigation system, plant native plants, and add rocks and sand. While you’ll save money and time in the long run, upfront costs and labor can be overwhelming.
- Can be difficult to clean up. You’ll need a leaf pick-up tool (AKA leaf stabber) to gather leaves and debris that have fallen on rocky areas.
- Decreases your lawn’s noise-reducing and cooling effects. Turfgrass absorbs street noise and cools your air by 7 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. With less grass, you may hear more traffic and your air conditioning costs may increase.
- May dissuade property buyers who want a traditional green lawn. Though xeriscapes generally add value to your property, some house-hunters love the green grass look.
No zeroes for xeriscaping
Xeriscaping is by no means “zero”-scaping. It’s a gorgeous, low-maintenance landscape design that will make you feel great about your environmental impact — and the money left in your wallet. If your yard is feeling a bit drab, a xeriscape could be the perfect makeover to transform your lawn into a real 10 out of 10.
Xeriscaping requires careful planning to conserve as much water as possible and qualify for a rebate. If you have a hectic schedule or prefer not to sweat it out in your yard, you can call a local lawn care pro to transform your lawn from thirsty to thrifty in no time.