A drought-resistant landscape doesn’t have to look like a dust storm just blew through it. Our guide will help you design a beautiful, water-wise Wichita backyard that will help lower your water bills and have a positive environmental impact.
Did you know there are 67 counties in Kansas with USDA disaster designations due to drought conditions? Although Wichita receives a healthy amount of annual rainfall (34 inches on average), it’s good to be prepared in such a dry state.
If you’re looking to transform your landscape into a water-wise paradise, consider xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is a method of landscaping designed to use as little water as possible, honed by landscapers in drought-prone areas.
Xeriscape features include:
- Cacti and succulents
- Drought-resistant native plants
- Rocks, pebbles, and gravels
- Hardscaping like pavers, patios, and fire pits
A key feature of xeriscapes is efficient irrigation. Consider replacing your sprinkler system (which loses a lot of water to evaporation and often is soaking your sidewalk) with drip irrigation. Drip irrigation delivers water straight to the plants in need at the ground level, reducing evaporation and missed targets.
2. Go with native plants
It makes sense that native plants would be a key feature of drought-tolerant landscaping. After all, they’ve survived all this time without help from humans, which means they’re well-adapted to the Kansas climate.
Not all native plants are made equal when it comes to surviving drought. Xeric native plants are king — they require little water and will do just fine with natural rainfall. Wichita is in USDA Hardiness Zone 6b, so look for plants that can thrive as perennials in this zone.
Here are a few ideas for plants native to Kansas that tolerate drought:
- Western yarrow
- Butterfly milkweed
- Heath aster
- Wild hyacinth
- Purple coneflower
- Silver wild morninglory
- False indigo
- Wild plum
- Eastern wahoo
- Prairie rose
- White ash
- Red cedar
- Eastern cottonwood
- Honey locust
- Shummard’s oak
3. Spread mulch
It can feel like water is just being sucked out of the ground during a dry spell. Instead of constantly adding more water, how about keeping it in the ground? Mulch is the perfect solution.
Mulch mimics the natural buildup on a forest floor. A 2-3 inch layer keeps moisture in your soil and regulates the temperature. Cooler ground temperatures means less evaporation and happier plants.
Types of organic mulch:
- Wood chips
- Grass clippings
- Shredded leaves
- Pine needles
Types of inorganic mulch:
- Landscape tarp
- Landscape fabric
- Rubber mulch
- Reflective mulch
Inorganic mulch lasts a lot longer without needing to be replaced. Organic mulch, though, adds beneficial nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. Both will benefit your landscape as far as retaining water.
4. Add hardscapes
We tend to give a lot of attention to the living plants in our landscape, but the non-living elements are just as important. Hardscaping includes all of those things in your yard that aren’t plants like benches, decks, walls, and pathways.
Hardscaping doesn’t have to be boring or lifeless. In fact, it can take your backyard from just fine to full of personality. It provides structure and a personal touch to your outdoor space. The best part is the only water it requires is an annual cleaning.
Creative ideas for hardscaping:
- A pergola that marks the transition into a new space like an edible garden
- A carved bench to sit and watch birds or butterflies in your pollinator garden
- A fire pit or outdoor kitchen for entertaining guests
- Wind chimes to provide a stimulating sensory experience
5. Install artificial turf
Are you tired of hauling out your mower every Saturday afternoon, waking up early to turn the sprinklers on, and trying to treat lawn disease? It might be time to trade traditional grass for artificial turf.
Not only is artificial turf a great low-maintenance landscaping swap, it can save your yard an abundance of water. Lawn irrigation is expensive, and it’s a big drain on your water supply.
The only maintenance artificial turf needs is an occasional rinse to keep it clean and weekly raking to keep it free of debris. Have pets? Not to worry — you can get a permeable turf safe for pets to use.
6. Build a rain garden
A rain garden is the perfect landscape feature to save on water because it cuts out all irrigation needs. Instead, these plants can survive on natural rainfall alone.
What is a rain garden exactly? It’s a collection of water-loving plants installed in a low valley of your yard where water naturally collects. You can build a rain garden yourself by digging a basin into any slope in your yard that’s 18-36 inches deep. You may need to amend your soil to make it more permeable so water can flow through the ground freely.
For the edges, choose plants like asters and snowberries with strong root systems to stabilize the soil. At the center of your garden, choose plants like coneflowers and dogwoods that don’t mind sitting in soggy soil.
Rain gardens benefit your yard by:
- Attracting pollinators
- Conserving water
- Replenishing local aquifers
- Encouraging biodiversity
- Protecting against pollution in local waterways
- Improving soil drainage
7. Use a rain barrel
While lowering your irrigation needs is great, collecting rainwater is also a smart move. A rain barrel puts a storm to good use, providing water you can use to give plants and seedlings a long drink.
How much water can a rain barrel collect? You can harvest 0.6 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on one square foot of your roof. That means if the area of your roof that’s draining into the barrel is 100 square feet, you can collect 30 gallons after just a half-inch of rain.
You needn’t buy a fancy rig for this one–you can build your own rain barrel for less than $100 to suit your needs. You’ll need a hacksaw, rain diverter or downspout flex-elbow, and cinder blocks (or some other platform for your barrel to sit on).
Get help from a landscaping pro
You don’t have to do it all on your own. A professional landscaper can help you design and install everything from fencing to turf to gardens.
If it’s lawn care services you’re looking for, call a pro from Lawn Love to handle weekly mowing, edging, and seasonal maintenance.
Main Photo Credit: The Elizabeth McLean House, in Wichita, Kansas, is listed on both the Kansas and National Registers of Historic Places | AEMcLean | CC BY 3.0 | via Wikimedia Commons