Nebraska may have once been known as “The Great American Desert,” but that doesn’t mean your backyard has to look deserted. Our guide to drought-resistant landscaping will let you design a water-wise paradise.
Advantages of drought-resistant landscaping include:
- Lowers your water bill
- Good for the environment
Although the Ogallala Aquifer — one of the world’s largest underground reservoirs — supplies water to Omaha’s landscapes in addition to the normal rainfall, drought is a real threat to Nebraskans.
1. Install drip irrigation
For effective drought-resistant landscaping design, you want to use as little water as possible and still keep your landscape thriving. A key part of that is targeted watering. Instead of a traditional lawn sprinkler, install drip irrigation to direct just enough water to the parts of your front yard that really need it.
A drip system is a network of tubes above ground with holes at custom intervals. The water drips straight from the device into the soil, reducing runoff and evaporation. Drip irrigation is more than 90% efficient, whereas traditional sprinkler systems are 50%-70% efficient.
Pro Tip: Even with more efficient irrigation systems, you still play an important role. Remember to adjust your watering schedule based on rainfall and season and to schedule it between the hours of 12 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Cost: For professional installation, drip irrigation costs between $150 and $550. The materials to do it yourself cost $30-$150.
2. Build a rock garden
If you want a garden without all the water it takes to maintain it, try a rock garden. Rock gardens are a creative hardscaping method to create a water-wise refuge for yourself.
Rock gardens are designed with boulders, gravel, and rocks of all shapes and sizes. You can make seating areas, gravel designs, and raised rock gardens. You can add walkways and pavers, too. Decide on a loose color scheme before you start so you know what drought-resistant plants and succulents will complement your design.
Cost: The supplies to build a rock garden range from $400 to $1,000. To reduce cost, make sure larger pieces are local to avoid a huge delivery fee.
3. Replace grass
If you think traditional grass is the only way to achieve a green lawn, think again. Grassy lawns use a lot of water – 30% to 60% of urban freshwater in the United States, to be exact. You can cut down on your water usage just by replacing traditional turfgrass with ground cover or artificial grass.
Ground cover is any low-lying plant that spreads by a creeping habit. They’re a great low-maintenance alternative to grass that will still give you plenty of lush green foliage in your yard. Look for one that can handle heavy foot traffic if you entertain a lot.
Ground cover options for Omaha:
- Poppy mallow
- Serbian yarrow
- Lamb’s ear
- Creeping juniper
Artificial turf is like a big green carpet for your yard. It’s fire-resistant, safe for pets and kids, and comes in a variety of shades. As for maintenance, you’re not completely free from yard work. Weekly raking and brushing removes debris, and a regular rinse with an antibacterial solution keeps it clean.
Cost: Ground cover costs $3.50-$15.50 per square foot to install professionally. Artificial turf ranges from $5-$19 per square foot for materials and labor.
4. Plant native perennials
Saving water doesn’t have to equal a colorless landscape. Nebraska’s nearly 1,500 species of native plants are adapted to harsh, dry winters and periods of drought. They won’t need nearly as much water as non-native plants, and if you get enough rainfall in the summer, you won’t need to water them at all. Plus, many of the colorful flowers attract pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies that help the local ecosystem.
These are all native and drought-tolerant plants. Check out this resource from the University of Nebraska for more water-wise landscape plants.
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5. Collect rainwater
Collecting rainwater is simple with a rain barrel. It attaches to your gutter downspout and gathers water to use for your plants. In Nebraska, up to 75% of summer water use goes toward irrigating yards. A rain barrel can cut homeowners’ water consumption.
Benefits of a rain barrel:
- Collects water to use during dry spells
- Reduces runoff and stormwater pollution
- Good for your garden because rainwater is naturally soft and oxygenated
How to install a rain barrel:
What you’ll need: prefabricated rain barrel, hack saw, two cinder blocks, and a rain barrel diverter
- Get rid of debris and make sure the ground beneath your downspout is level.
- Lay the cinder blocks on the leveled ground as the platform for your barrel.
- Put your barrel on top of the blocks. Place whatever watering can you’ll be using beneath the spigot to make sure the cinder blocks are tall enough for the can to fit.
- Mark the gutter where it meets the diverter. The hose should be a little higher than the barrel in order for water to drain down.
- Use a hack saw to cut the gutter, then attach the diverter with screws. Attach the hose to the diverter and run it through the hole on the top of the rain barrel.
Don’t throw away the cap that goes to the side of the diverter! You’ll need it for winter storage.
Cost: Cost varies greatly. A DIY version can be as little as $60. A large, custom-designed model can cost as much as $600.
6. Amend your soil
Along with the rest of the United States, stormwater pollution is a big problem in Nebraska. Not only is the pollution a threat to the health of waterways, but the volume of stormwater also worsens erosion and leads to flash flooding.
How can homeowners help? Most of the soil in Nebraska has a high clay content. Water takes a long time to filter through clay, leading to more water runoff. Amending your soil with organic matter helps increase water absorption and filtration.
How to incorporate organic matter into your soil:
- Spread a 3-inch layer of mulch around your flower beds and the bases of trees.
- Start a backyard compost system.
- Build a rain garden in a low-slope area of your landscape.
Cost: A rain garden costs $10-$20 per square foot for professional installation. A simple compost pile is free.
FAQ about drought-resistant landscaping
Grouping plants by their water needs — or what is called hydrozoning— wastes less water. Place plants that need more water at the bottom of slopes and plants that need less at the top.
Adding a 3-inch layer of mulch around trees and garden beds to retain moisture is a simple way to prevent water loss. Mulch ranges from $15 to $50 per yard.
Drought-resistant plants need regular watering when you first plant them to establish deep roots. Whether or not they’ll need watering after that depends on the specific plant. Some may survive well on rainfall alone, while others need some supplementary irrigation.
Make drought-resistant landscaping projects a breeze by calling a professional. A local lawn care team can help you design and install your new outdoor space so you can spend your free time enjoying the outdoors.
Main Photo Credit: Olga1205 | Pixabay