13 Low-Maintenance Landscaping Ideas for Salt Lake City

fluffy whiter flowers on a ground cover called pussytoes

If you’re a busy bee in the Beehive State, a needy lawn is the last thing you need. Low-maintenance landscaping means less yard work, so you can enjoy the Crossroads of the West instead of being at a crossroads each weekend about whether you really need to mow your lawn.

These low-maintenance landscaping ideas save you time and sweat so you can be proud of your yard without wasting your precious weekends. Let’s walk through the top 13 easy landscaping ideas for a healthy lawn in SLC.

What is a low-maintenance landscape? 

A low-maintenance landscape uses fewer resources and requires less labor than a traditional turfgrass lawn, which is a big win in a climate like ours.

Salt Lake City’s hot, dry summers and snowy winters can be tough on turfgrass like Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue, and the watering, fertilizing, and pesticide treatments that grass requires to stay healthy can strain your bank account (and the local ecosystem).

Low-maintenance landscaping doesn’t mean sacrificing beauty for convenience. It just means making some savvy substitutions for turfgrass. Converting your lawn or a portion of your lawn to a lower-maintenance option keeps your space sustainably green.

Benefits of a low-maintenance landscape

Each low-maintenance landscape idea offers unique benefits, but in general, low-maintenance landscapes:

  • Reduce or eliminate the need to mow
  • Cut the need for fertilizer
  • Decrease outdoor water use
  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Do not require pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides
  • Make your yard more sustainable and eco-friendly

13 low-maintenance landscaping ideas for Salt Lake City

1. Get water-wise with a xeriscape

Sick of watering your grass in summer only for it to dry out the next day? A xeriscape is a water-wise solution that uses native plants, rocks, and sand to create a beautiful, drought-resistant landscape that pairs well with Utah’s naturally arid climate. 

Xeriscapes include:

  • Drought-resistant and drought-tolerant native plants 
  • Cacti, succulents, and ground covers
  • Mulch
  • Sand
  • Soil
  • Rocks, gravel, and pebbles
  • Hardscape features, like footpaths, patios, and fire pits

Xeriscaping is all about designing a sustainable space that thrives primarily on local rainfall and grouping plants based on their water and shade needs (AKA hydrozoning). When you hydrozone, you reduce overwatering and underwatering, so plants stay healthy and unstressed and you conserve water. 

Can’t bear to lose all your grass? You don’t have to go grass-free to have a successful xeriscape. Xeriscaping just means being thoughtful about where you need turfgrass and where water-wise plants or rocks will do the job.

For example, if your kids and pets play in the backyard, you may want to divide your backyard down the middle: One half can have turfgrass for play, and the other half can have a rock garden sanctuary, native plant garden, or other low-water feature.

Benefits of a xeriscape: 

Increases property value
✓ Requires less weeding than a traditional turfgrass lawn
✓ Little to no watering required
✓ No fertilizer or pesticides needed
✓ Reduces or eliminates mowing needs (depending on whether you keep a portion of turfgrass)
✓ Promotes biodiversity and can be a habitat for native wildlife
✓ Attracts beautiful pollinators like butterflies and bees
✓ Fun to design your own colorful, stylish space
✓ Rebates are available as an incentive for preserving our city’s water

Cost: On average, a professionally designed and installed xeriscape costs between $3,600 and $22,349, depending on the size of your yard and what features you use in your landscape design. 

Pro Tip: Utah Water Savers offers a rebate ($2,000 for the average quarter-acre lawn) through the Localscapes program. Take the 45-minute “Introduction to Localscapes” online class and follow their landscaping checklist to qualify.

2. Go natural with native plants

Native Utah plants are old pros when it comes to weathering Salt Lake City’s climate, which means they won’t require any water, fertilizer, or pesticides once established. They’re specifically adapted to our region, so they stand strong in hot, dry summers while non-native plants need more and more water and maintenance to survive.

Native plants are hardy locals with deep roots, strong disease resistance, and a high tolerance for drought and heat. We’ll talk a lot about them on this list because planting natives means less yard work, more sustained growth, and an eco-friendly space that can stand the test of time. 

Popular native plant selection for SLC:

  • Indigo bush
  • Yucca
  • Great Basin sagebrush (AKA big sagebrush)
  • Utah mountain lilac
  • Evening primrose
  • Silvery lupine
  • Firecracker penstemon
  • Purple threeawn
  • Sand verbena
  • Yarrow
  • Orange agoseris

Benefits of native plants:

✓ No fertilizer or pesticides needed
✓ Little or no supplemental water needed
✓ Deep roots prevent erosion and stabilize the soil
✓ Preserve biodiversity and provide a habitat for local wildlife
✓ Attract pollinators like butterflies, birds, and bees 
✓ Roots stop polluted runoff from entering local aquatic ecosystems
✓ Add natural beauty and color to your yard

Cost: Native plant prices vary by size, shape, and species. Expect to pay $5 to $10 per small native flower, $20 to $100 per native shrub, and $60 to $800 per native tree. 

Pro Tip: Looking to replace the grass on the strip between your sidewalk and the road with native plants? The Flip Your Strip program offers homeowners up to $1.25 per square foot of converted lawn, so if your strip is 200 square feet, you can expect to receive up to $250.

3. Radiant rain gardens

infographic explaining how a rain garden works

“But Salt Lake City hardly gets any rain!” That’s all the more reason to build a rain garden. Rain gardens help SLC lawns absorb water so you don’t have to use the hose as frequently. 

While a rain garden may take more time to plan and install than a traditional garden, it requires a whole lot less maintenance once established.

What is a rain garden? Rain gardens are basins filled with permeable soil, rocks, and deep-rooted native plants. They’re like beautiful, plant-filled bathtubs. 

What does a rain garden do? Rain gardens collect rainwater during storms, preventing it from flowing across your lawn and into the storm drain. This gives plant roots time to absorb the water and filter out harmful chemicals, so local waterways aren’t polluted by fast-flowing runoff laced with herbicide, fertilizer, and sediment.

Benefits of rain gardens:

✓ Filter water to remove harsh chemicals and sediment
✓ Reduce runoff
✓ Keep the soil moist
✓ Recharge groundwater to keep SLC sustainable
✓ Protect aquatic ecosystems from pollutants and thermal shock
✓ Reduce erosion so topsoil stays in place
✓ Attract pollinators like butterflies and bees 
✓ Promote biodiversity and provide a habitat for native wildlife
✓ Add a splash of color with gorgeous native flowers
✓ Raise your property value
✓ Don’t require watering or fertilizer once established

Cost: A DIY rain garden costs between $3 and $5 per square foot. A typical rain garden is 150 to 400 square feet, so expect to pay between $450 and $2,000. Professional installation ranges from $10 and $15 per square foot

4. It’s automatic (irrigation)!

Tired of pulling out the hose twice a week to water your lawn? An automatic sprinkler system does the watering for you on the schedule that you choose. All you have to do is set the timer on your sprinklers so they water to the correct depth for the right amount of time. 

An automatic sprinkler system means you won’t have to lift a finger to water your plants, but it won’t be easy on your wallet or the environment. Sprinklers are notorious for losing water to evaporation: They’re only 50% to 70% efficient

If saving time is your priority and you don’t mind spending more money on water, automatic sprinklers will make your life much easier. If you’d rather conserve water and are willing to spend a bit more time watering your plants, consider a highly efficient drip irrigation system instead.

Benefits of an automatic irrigation system:

✓ You can “set it and forget it”: The system does the work for you
✓ You don’t have to worry about accidentally overwatering your lawn by hand
✓ Sprinklers distribute water uniformly, while hand-watering can distribute water unevenly
✓ Can increase property value
✓ Systems with rain sensors automatically interrupt the sprinklers when soil is already moist from rain, so your lawn won’t be overwatered

Cost: A professionally installed automatic irrigation system typically ranges from $2,500 to $4,000 for an average quarter-acre yard.

5. Ground cover galore

Want a verdant lawn without the work that grass demands? Substitute ground cover (low-growing plants that spread across your yard) for traditional turfgrass. Ground covers that are native to SLC will give your yard a full, lush look without requiring any fertilizer or pesticide.

Choose ground covers that grow well in USDA Hardiness Zone 6. Here are some beautiful native ground covers for our lawns:

  • Utah sedum
  • Buffalograss 
  • Pussy toes
  • Creeping mahonia, also known as Oregon grape
  • Creeping phlox
  • Sun rose

Benefits of ground covers:

✓ Many require little or no mowing
✓ Lower-maintenance than turfgrasses
✓ No fertilizer or pesticide is needed if you plant a native variety
✓ Stabilize soil and prevent erosion
✓ Many ground covers have colorful blossoms and attractive textures
✓ Fewer pest and disease problems than turfgrass

6. Mulching magic

You can improve just about any yard with mulch. Building a rain garden? Add wood chip mulch. Growing a veggie garden? Grab the shredded leaf mulch. Mulch keeps your soil moist, protects plant roots, and prevents weeds and diseases. With a healthy layer of mulch, you’ll do a lot less weeding, watering, and chemical treatments.

Mulch is an organic or inorganic material — from leaves and wood chips to rubber and landscape fabric — that is spread over your soil. It’s especially important for successful xeriscaping. To qualify for Utah’s Localscapes program, you must cover planting beds with 3 to 4 inches of mulch.

Benefits of mulch:

✓ Retains soil moisture and prevents evaporation
✓ Insulates soil from temperature shifts
✓ Reduces erosion
✓ Prevents weeds
✓ Keeps soil loose and oxygen-rich
✓ Protects plants from soil-borne diseases
✓ Adds visual appeal
✓ Provides nutrients to plant roots (if organic)
✓ Attracts beneficial insects and microorganisms (if organic)

Cost: Mulch typically costs $15.30 to $74.80 per cubic yard or $1.80 to $6.05 per 2-cubic-foot bag, depending on the quality and material. You can often get fresh wood mulch for free from local arborists and tree recycling centers.

7. Hardscape to your heart’s content

Hardscaping is hard to beat when it comes to expanding your outdoor living space and reducing high-maintenance turfgrass. Stone patios, paved pathways, and fire pits beautify your yard and give you space to entertain guests while lightening your yard workload. 

Hardscapes are non-living yard features made of hard, durable materials like brick, stone, gravel, and wood. Installing hardscape features means you won’t have to mow, water, weed, or fertilize, so you can enjoy your outdoor spaces without worrying about thinning grass.

Hardscapes are often expensive to install, but you can get a long-term return on your investment: Attractive hardscaping adds to your lawn’s curb appeal and can increase your property value by as much as 15% (especially if it includes an outdoor dining space). 

Lawn hardscapes include: 

  • Arbors
  • Outdoor kitchens
  • Stone benches
  • Patios
  • Paved walkways
  • Decks
  • Fire pits
  • Fencing
  • Fountains

Advantages of hardscaping:

✓ Less grass to mow and water
✓ Long-lasting
✓ No pesticide, fertilizer, or fungicide required
✓ No weeding needed
✓ Can even out the slope of your lawn
✓ Excellent for areas with high foot traffic
✓ Increase property value
✓ Expand your living space

Pro Tip: Many hardscapes are impermeable, which means that polluted stormwater cannot penetrate the ground and rushes down the storm drain into aquatic ecosystems. Keep our fish, turtles, and other local animals safe by choosing a permeable hardscape option.

Cost: Hardscape prices range based on the scope of the project, what type of hardscape you are installing, and what materials you’re using. Pathways typically cost between $7 and $24 per square foot (a 100-square-foot paver path usually costs between $1,000 and $1,800). Patios range from $576 to $8,000 and a deck ranges from $4,000 to $11,000

8. Rock out with a rock garden

You won’t find any guitars or drums in a rock garden (unless you want them as part of your design!). A rock garden is a calming space filled with local stones, beautiful boulders, drought-tolerant succulents, and native plants. It’s the perfect place to relax, recharge, and appreciate the natural beauty of Salt Lake City.

Rock gardens are flexible in size and shape: Show off your boulder collection with a sprawling rock garden that encompasses half your lawn, or build a small raised rock garden to add color and dimension to that one sunny spot where grass keeps dying. 

A rock garden is gorgeous on its own or as a showstopping feature within a xeriscape. Install your favorite bumpy boulders and smooth river rocks (and anything in between!) and accentuate them with succulents, ornamental grasses, mulch, and perennial flowers.

Why install a rock garden?

✓ Increases your property value
✓ Conserves water
✓ No mowing or fertilizer needed
✓ Little weeding required
✓ Eco-friendly
✓ Provides habitat for pollinators and local wildlife
✓ Stays verdant year-round if you include evergreens
✓ Tolerates drought, heat, and wind
✓ Boosts your yard’s curb appeal

Cost: Professional installation costs between $400 and $1,000, depending on the size of your rock garden and the materials you use. Lower the cost by using your own stones and making it a DIY project.

9. Contain your excitement with container gardens

Also known as a potted garden, a container garden gives you the freedom to choose plants that otherwise couldn’t grow in your yard. You can plant all your dream plants that don’t thrive in Utah soil or can’t handle SLC winters and then simply amend the soil and bring plants indoors when a frost is predicted. 

Container gardens are easy to maintain, and you won’t have to deal with as many diseases and pests as you typically do in gardens. That means you can have a blast planting bulbs, annuals, ornamental grasses, and even small shrubs without worrying that they’ll wilt or die the moment they’re in their new home.

If your back or knees give you trouble, a container garden is the perfect gardening solution. You don’t have to kneel or bend down to dig around in the ground, and you can even contain your plants in a raised planter box so they stay at arm height.

Benefits of a container garden: 

✓ No mowing needed
✓ Very few weeds: No herbicide required
✓ Plants can come inside during winter and frosts
✓ Don’t have to worry about extreme weather
✓ Fewer pests and diseases than in-ground plants
✓ Long-lasting
✓ Greater variety of plants available
✓ More accessible than a grounded garden
✓ Different colors and designs add style to your lawn
✓ You can display different plants and color schemes based on the season

Cost: One potted plant typically costs $20 to $50, depending on the plant’s species and maturity. Don’t want to pay for a pot? Use that extra wheelbarrow that’s sitting in your garage or repurpose the old wooden barrel in your basement. 

10. Everlasting evergreens

Want a lawn that stays verdant year-round? Evergreens are your new best friends. They won’t lose their healthy green color in winter, so your yard will turn heads as other yards turn brown. 

Evergreens continue to photosynthesize throughout the year instead of going dormant, which means you get an easy, beautiful lawn that won’t require fall raking.

Think pine and spruce trees are the only evergreen lawn options? Think again! Evergreens come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. 

Popular evergreens in SLC include:

  • White fir 
  • Subalpine fir
  • Blue atlas cedar
  • Austrian pine 
  • Apache plume 
  • Juniper 
  • Utah holly, also known as Fremont barberry
  • English ivy
  • Fringed bleeding-heart
  • Candytuft 

Benefits of evergreens:

✓ No fall leaves to rake
✓ Add color and dimension to your lawn in winter months
✓ Improve air quality by reducing carbon dioxide pollution in winter
✓ Trees provide wind protection and sound-proofing for all seasons
✓ Trees offer year-round backyard privacy

Cost: One evergreen tree or shrub can range from $25 to $3,000, depending on the size and species. Expect to pay $100 to $250 for a young 3- to 4-foot-tall tree. 

11. Perfect perennials

Perennials grow back year after year, so you don’t have to replace your garden or front yard foliage every spring. They go dormant (turn brown) in winter and green back up as the weather warms. If you want to save money on new plants and minimize time spent digging and sweating in your yard, perennial flowers, shrubs, and ground covers are a gorgeous choice.

Building a rain garden, xeriscape, or rock garden? Native perennials will save the day. Their deep roots are designed for Utah’s dry summers, so when we enter a drought, just give them a dose of supplemental water and they’ll thrive.

Popular Utah perennials include: 

  • Butterfly weed
  • Coneflower
  • Bee balm
  • Boxwood
  • Euonymus
  • Fremont’s chaffbush

Benefits of perennials:

✓ Don’t need to be replaced every year
✓ Many beautiful flowers, shrubs, and succulents to choose from
✓ You can pick sun- or shade-loving varieties based on your yard’s light exposure
✓ Many Utah native perennials have deep roots and high drought resistance
✓ Hardier than annuals
✓ Better at “predicting” the weather than annuals: While annuals often mistake a warm day in winter for the beginning of spring, perennials have better timing (after all, they’ve had more practice)
✓ Excellent additions to container gardens, rain gardens, and rock gardens

Cost: A professionally planted flower bed costs between $650 and $3,000, based on size and plant variety. Want to DIY a perennial garden? Perennials typically cost $5 to $30 per plant. 

12. Get artistic with artificial grass

Ready to tear your hair out over dry, yellow turfgrass? Tear out your grass instead and replace it with artificial grass (AKA artificial turf). You can say “good riddance” to the upkeep of live grass and enjoy a gorgeous green lawn year-round.

Artificial grass is made of heat-resistant plastic and comes in a variety of shades, textures, and lengths, so you can choose the best look for your lawn. After it’s installed, you’ll just need to remove twigs and debris and rinse it occasionally to keep it clean. Beyond that, you can sit back and relax (and make your next-door neighbors jealous).

Worried an artificial grass lawn will look fake? Well, artificial grasses in the 1980s weren’t exactly masters of subtlety, but today, you can find artificial turfs that look just like natural grass. Chances are some of your neighbors have artificial turf and you don’t even know.

Why choose artificial grass?

✓ Evergreen
✓ No mowing needed
✓ No pesticides or fertilizer required
✓ Little water necessary
✓ Saves water and energy
✓ Durable: Great for play spaces and areas with high foot traffic
✓ Can save money in the long term 
✓ Large variety of textures, colors, and heights

Cost: Professional installation of artificial grass costs between $4.95 and $20.60 per square foot.

13. Go wild for wildflowers

A wildflower meadow is a gorgeous lawn alternative that can turn a patchy turfgrass lawn into a butterfly-filled fairyland. It takes wildflower meadows a while (two to three years) to become self-sufficient, but once they’re fully established, they’ll only need the occasional weeding and pruning, so you can toss the hose aside and forgo fertilizer. 

Filled with native flowers and grasses, wildflower meadows are eco-friendly superstars that thrive in poor soil and dry conditions. 

Advantages of a wildflower meadow: 

✓ Promotes biodiversity
✓ No fertilizer or pesticides required
✓ No watering needed once plants are established
✓ Only one mowing needed per year
✓ Attracts beautiful pollinators
✓ Adds natural color and texture to your landscape 
✓ Reduces erosion and runoff pollution
✓ Improves soil health

Cost: Wildflower seed mixes range from $60 to $80 per 1,000 square feet. Professional installation runs $750 to $2,500 for a typical quarter-acre lawn, depending on how much preparation the site requires and what kinds of species are used. 

FAQ about low-maintenance landscaping in Salt Lake City

1. What makes a good xeriscape?

Designing your own xeriscape gives you plenty of creative freedom, but you’ll want to follow seven principles as you plan your drought-friendly landscape.

Principles of xeriscaping: 

Planning and design
Soil improvements
Efficient irrigation
Limiting turf use
Choosing drought-tolerant and drought-resistant plants

Check out “What is Xeriscaping?” to plan your water-wise landscape using these principles. Remember, it’s important to follow Utah’s local guidelines to qualify for a rebate.

2. I want some grass on my low-maintenance lawn. Which grasses are best for SLC?

Remember, low maintenance doesn’t mean no grass. In fact, grass may be exactly what you need if you often play sports in your backyard, host neighborhood barbecues, or simply want that traditional lawn look.

The five best grass types for SLC are:

Kentucky bluegrass
Tall fescue
Fine fescue
Perennial ryegrass

Grass generally requires more maintenance than native plants or a rock garden, but some well-placed turfgrass can benefit your yard. 

For areas that see frequent foot traffic, plant Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, and perennial ryegrass. They stand up to wear and tear, which means you won’t have to worry about replacing damaged plants.

If you want that green grass look without all the maintenance, opt for fine fescue or buffalograss. They don’t require as much mowing, fertilizing, and watering as other grass types.  

3. Why should I choose drought-resistant plants? 

Utah is a drought-prone state, and it’s gotten even drier in recent years, prompting warnings from government officials that rationing may be in our future. It’s important for homeowners and businesses to reduce water use now so we have enough clean drinking water in the future. 

A great way to reduce water use? Choose drought-tolerant plants that require little to no water. In Utah, 60% of residential water use is used for outdoor irrigation, so when you cut the amount of water used on your lawn, you cut a large portion of your total water bill. In fact, drought-friendly landscaping can lower your water bill by up to 80%

Call in a pro for low-maintenance magic

For homeowners with hectic schedules in the Beehive State, low-maintenance landscaping is the bees’ knees. Before you begin, take time to plot out your new lawn layout so you know how much material and how many plants you’ll need.

Want to skip the heavy lifting and get right to the “low-maintenance” part? Call in a team of Salt Lake City lawn care pros so you can take in a show at the Capitol Theatre instead of sweating it out in your yard. They’ll transform your lawn from high-maintenance to easy-care in a snap.

Main Photo Credit: xulescu_g | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Maille Smith

Maille-Rose Smith is a freelance writer and actor based in New York. She graduated from the University of Virginia. She enjoys watching theatre, reading mysteries, and listening to psychology podcasts. She is an orchid enthusiast and always has a basil plant growing in her kitchen.