The xeriscape ideas in this article include using mulch and rocks as focal points, planting perennials and annuals, replacing greenery with seating areas and other hardscapes, and more. You’ve come to the right place for the best water-wise landscape design tips.
If you thought xeriscaping was all about conserving water . . . well, you’re right, it is. But you can use less water and still have an appealing, impressive, unique yard, too. Keep reading for landscaping design ideas that will make your yard pop without wasting water.
- 1. Mulch as a focal point
- 2. Support the ecosystem with native plants
- 3. Perennials for consistency
- 4. Annuals for artistic freedom
- 5. Mediterranean plants for edibles
- 6. Give yard chores a rest with seating areas
- 7. Replace turfgrass with ground cover and ornamental grasses
- 8. Extend your living space with hardscapes
- 9. Add succulents for automatic water-wise plants
- 10. Build an eye-catching rock garden
- 11. Turn your shady areas into shade gardens
- Xeriscaping FAQs
1. Mulch as a focal point
Mulch is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping (for all seven principles, see our basic xeriscaping guide). Adding mulch provides many benefits to your soil and plants. Mulch suppresses weed growth, reduces erosion, and protects the soil and plants from extreme temperatures.
Organic mulch conserves water by protecting the soil from the sun’s rays, which reduces water evaporation. Wood chips, pine needles, and other organic mulches also add nutrients to the soil when they break down.
Mulch comes in many textures, colors, and different materials. You can add it to flower beds or even replace grass spaces with mulch. Darker mulch can create a more elegant and sophisticated look, while light-colored or multi-colored mulch can create a more playful feeling.
Create paths or walkways made of mulch between garden beds to break up the space in your yard visually and reduce the surface area of thirsty turfgrass. Define or distinguish different areas of your yard by outlining or separating each zone with a different type or color of mulch.
Get creative with your design! The main point is to let the mulch be the focal point. Build a garden that is mostly mulch with just a few drought-tolerant plants, and you’ll use much less water on your lawn and landscape.
Estimated cost: The price of mulch depends on the type, amount, and if you’re having it professionally installed. It typically costs between $3 to $7 a bag. Mulch costs about $20 to $60 per cubic yard for a DIY project. Most homeowners spend about $85 per cubic yard for professional mulching services.
2. Support the ecosystem with native plants
Native plants are an essential ingredient in the xeriscape design philosophy. The concept of xeriscaping is that people should use plants that thrive on little to no water other than what naturally occurs in the local climate. Native plants have adapted to the local environment, so they need little water other than rainfall.
These plants typically need less water than non-native plants. Native plants also have the added benefit of being low-maintenance because they have adapted to local diseases and pests. They not only conserve water, but they save you the time and money you would otherwise spend on pesticides and herbicides for treatment.
Choose especially drought-tolerant native plants for a one-two punch of water conservation. Natives to your area are generally the best plants for xeriscaping.
Estimated cost: An area’s native plants include vines, trees, wildflowers, and more. Prices depend on plant type, size, how they’re sold, and where they’re purchased. Most homeowners pay between $5 to $50 per vine. It typically costs an average of $300 to have a tree professionally installed. On the other hand, you can usually find native flower seeds at a local nursery or online for less than $5.
3. Perennials for consistency
Perennials save time and money because they reseed for multiple seasons. Although they need watering daily for the first two weeks, they typically only require irrigation once or twice a week once established.
Drought-tolerant perennials come in many varieties to add color and texture to different areas of your yard. Plant perennial grasses along a mulched pathway that leads to your front door. Here are some perennial grasses that give your front yard landscaping outstanding curb appeal:
- Blue oat grass
- Leatherleaf sedge
- Pampas grass
If you live in the Southwest US, you may already be familiar with dry gardens. The reoccurring droughts in this area have made dry gardens popular because they consist of plants that can survive on precipitation alone.
Perennial salvias are great for yards showcasing a dry garden. Salvias grow well with little to no watering as long as they are in well-drained soil. Of course, you don’t have to live in the Southwest to use these water-wise plants.
The following perennial salvias defy the myth that dry gardens are colorless and boring:
- Caucasus sage
- Wild pink Lemmon’s sage
- ‘Elk Screamin’ scarlet sage
- Blue Ecuadorian sage
Consider drought-tolerant perennials for your hedges and shrubs, too. Boxwoods, for example, are drought-resistant, heat-tolerant, and excellent for hedges.
Here are a few other drought-tolerant perennials to consider for your xeriscape:
- Butterfly weed
- Russian sage
- Littleleaf box
Estimated cost: Perennial plant costs depend on the same determinants as other plants, like type, how it’s sold, quantity, and location of purchase. The average cost to have a 5 x 12-foot flower bed professionally installed is about $2,500, but that includes edging, mulch, and labor costs, not only the plants themselves. For many perennials, you can easily find seeds for around $5 – $10.
4. Annuals for artistic freedom
Annuals must be planted every year, but they allow artistic freedom that perennials do not. You can implement new design ideas every planting season. These plants are bred to produce bright and vivid colors. Give your xeriscape design a makeover every year with a new color scheme by planting drought-tolerant annuals.
Get even more creative and change more than your color scheme. Landscaping ideas can include using different types of plants every year. You might want all wildflowers one year and wildflowers mixed in with vines climbing up trellises the next.
Annuals also work well as fill-ins. Since perennials bloom for a shorter period, plant annuals in perennial garden designs so that the annuals fill in bare spots and allow the garden to be colorful and full of blossoms longer. Our favorite xeriscapes are those with a mixture of coordinating perennials and annuals.
Here are a few annuals to get you started:
- African daisies
- Common lantana
- French marigolds
- California poppy
- Black-eyed Susan
Estimated cost: Annual flower bed installation is about the same as the cost for perennials. However, costs are at the lower end when perennials and low-maintenance or native plants are included. Marigolds cost about $3 apiece. Sunflowers are typically about $9 apiece. A DIY flower bed usually costs between $10 and $100 per plant.
5. Mediterranean plants for edibles
Mediterranean plants are excellent choices for a drought-tolerant landscape design and an edible garden. These plants thrive in plenty of sunlight and moderately dry, well-drained soil. Plant these colorful, delicious delights in your herb or vegetable garden. They’ll bring refreshing smells to your yard:
Estimated cost: As with any plant, cost depends on type, size, and location. For common herbs like these, a pack of seeds can cost as little as $3 to $4.
6. Give yard chores a rest with seating areas
Seating areas extend your living space into the outdoors. They make your outdoor space functional and inviting and reduce or eliminate your yard chores. The larger the seating area, the less greenery homeowners will need in their yards, which means no more or significantly less watering, mowing, fertilizing, and other yard maintenance tasks. But if you enjoy plant life in your life, you can use drought-tolerant native plants to outline or border your seating areas.
Seating areas also add curb appeal. Choose options with natural materials. Blend the style of your home with that of your seating area by using similar or complementary colors for furniture and flooring.
Zone off sections of your backyard with different seating areas. One area could be on a patio that extends from the house, while another could be along or at the end of a walkway. You could have furniture that is more for lounging and resting in one zone, and in another zone, an outdoor dining or cooking area. Covered seating areas with curtains allow for shade, privacy, and protection from the elements.
Estimated cost: The cost of your outdoor seating area depends on how elaborate you want to get with it. Installing a new patio costs about $4,500 on average, but you could pave your seating area with pea gravel for only about $335. Want to add a lovely fire pit for bonfires? That’ll add about $830 to your project. And a fully equipped outdoor kitchen can cost as much as $17,280. As you can see, there are options for every budget.
7. Replace turfgrass with ground cover and ornamental grasses
Replacing grass with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant ground cover plants and ornamental grasses reduces or eliminates the need to mow, water, and fertilize your lawn. Ground cover spreads quickly to give you greenery that suppresses weeds and prevents erosion. These plants also provide more visual stimulation than plain old grass.
Ground cover and ornamental grasses add texture and color to your xeriscape design. They come in various growth patterns, with some reaching as high as 10 feet tall and others staying low to the ground. You can even find flowering options.
Check out these must-have ground covers and ornamental grasses for your drought-tolerant landscape:
- Carpet sedum
- Sonoma sage
- Creeping zinnias
- Zebra grass
- Blue grama grass
Estimated cost: Ground cover and ornamental grass costs vary depending on the plant type, size, how they’re sold, and where they’re purchased. Xeric plants typically cost an average of $9 to $70. Ground cover plant trays cost about $10, while a container plant costs about $40.
8. Extend your living space with hardscapes
Replacing turfgrass and plant beds with hardscapes gets rid of all watering, fertilizing, and regular maintenance chores. A hardscape is any landscape feature that isn’t organic (meaning plants and grass). Like outdoor seating, hardscaping is one of those xeriscape ideas that allows you to quit mowing forever if you cover your entire yard with different features, and the possibilities are endless.
A retaining wall helps prevent erosion and can make a sloped property more functional. You can create different levels and stairs. Add a pergola with a seating area on one of the levels.
Other hardscaping ideas include gazebos, paver walkways, and lighting. Use a water feature as a focal point. Place a recirculating water fountain in a garden bed or rock garden. Truly, your only limit when it comes to designing with hardscapes is your imagination!
Estimated cost: The price will vary immensely depending on your specific project. Having a hardscape installed by a landscaping professional costs most homeowners between $3,300 to $13,200 per project, but a simple DIY project, like a gravel patio or a fire pit made with cinderblocks, would cost a lot less than that.
9. Add succulents for automatic water-wise plants
Succulents were made for xeriscaping. These drought-tolerant plants store water in their plant parts, so they have water when they need it (kind of like how a camel stores water in its hump). Some succulent plants, like cacti, can survive for extended periods without any water, while others need a little irrigation boost during long dry periods.
Succulents are versatile. They are ornamental grasses, flowering ground covers, wildflowers, and more. You can plant them in place of grass or let them blossom in a traditional flower garden.
Some succulent plants can survive the cold of the northern US, but others may have to be taken indoors in colder climates when the temperature drops. You can make it easy to go from outdoors to indoors by keeping these types of succulents in containers.
Containers can help your plants be more of a focal point. Vessels come in various sizes, materials, shapes, and colors. Succulents and their eye-catching containers can make your xeriscape design uniquely colorful and interesting.
Tips for containers: Color and material may affect plant growth. For example, darker colors absorb and retain heat so that plants may dry out faster in dark-colored containers.
These succulents work well in rock gardens and other areas of a xeriscaped yard:
- Ice plant
- Jade plant
Check out our list of succulent garden ideas for the front yard for more fantastic ways to use these plants in aesthetically pleasing landscape designs.
Estimated cost: Succulent plants typically cost between $3 to $15 per plant, but price depends on type, size, and location. Aloe vera is usually between $12 and $25. Hens and chicks are an average of $9 to $11.
10. Build an eye-catching rock garden
Rock gardens give landscapes lots of color and texture without much work. Aside from refilling the rocks every few years, they are maintenance-free.
Use larger rocks or boulders to define your rock garden, and fill in the center with smaller rocks. Add some drought-tolerant ornamental grass or ground cover for a little greenery. You can also plant greenery that thrives in tight spaces and minimal soil, like bellflowers and creeping phlox. The plant roots will still get sufficient moisture. When rocks are packed closely together, they allow moisture to evaporate more slowly. These plants will create an appealing contrast as they spill over the rocks.
Use rocks to create a walkway to your front door or create a winding pathway through a vegetable garden or cottage garden. Large rocks and boulders also make great walls for raised planter beds full of drought-tolerant edibles, like Mediterranean plants and other edible vegetation.
Estimated cost: The cost of rocks depends on the type, size, and amount. Smaller rocks like pea gravel are less expensive than larger boulders. Gravel costs about $25 to $55 per cubic yard. Expect to pay about $40 to $140 per cubic yard for larger rocks and stones.
11. Turn your shady areas into shade gardens
If your significantly shady property has you thinking you can’t grow beautiful, diverse vegetation, think again. You can create a shade garden that’s just as vibrant and beautiful as a garden in full sun. Many shade plants are also drought-tolerant.
Your yard has already done some of the work for you by creating shady areas that get less sun and thus lose less water to heat and evaporation. Now, add some shade-loving plants like begonias and black mondo grass to use those shady spots to their fullest potential.
Here are a few shade plants that will give your shade garden some diversity:
- Pink dogwood
- Sweet woodruff
- Japanese anemones
- Lily turf
How much does it cost for professional xeriscaping?
Professional xeriscaping costs between $10,000 and $19,000 if you want to remodel the whole landscape at once. Most homeowners pay about $17,000 for a standard-size yard. Price is affected by project size and complexity, so simpler designs and DIY projects can be a lot less expensive. Expect to spend as little as $5 per square foot or as much as $20 per square foot depending on exactly what you want.
Replacing swaths of grass with mulch beds and planting lots of native flower seeds are inexpensive ways to start turning your yard into a beautiful xeriscape without the need for professional help.
What are some other ways to xeriscape your home?
Installing irrigation systems that allow you to water more efficiently is one of the seven principles of xeriscaping. Drip irrigation systems allow you to deliver water directly to plant roots. More complicated systems and drip irrigation accessories allow you to control water dissemination to different plant zones in your yard.
What are the seven principles of xeriscaping?
We’ve covered some of the principles in this article. Here is a list of all seven:
- Plan the design
- Test the soil
- Reduce or eliminate turfgrass
- Select drought-tolerant plants
- Use mulch
- Install appropriate irrigation systems
- Maintain your xeriscape design
Again, you can learn more about these principles and all the basics of xeriscaping in our guide to xeriscaping your yard.
Get help with your xeriscaping project today
As you can see, xeriscaping is not boring, bland, or scraggly. It can be minimalistic if you like, or a full landscape with color, texture, shape, and variety everywhere the eye can see. Combining the different xeriscape ideas in this article will help you create a diverse and attractive landscape design.
Still not convinced that xeriscaping is the future of front yards everywhere? See our article on the benefits of xeriscaping to learn more about why water-wise landscaping principles are growing more popular every year.
On the other hand, implementing these xeriscape principles and designs can be tricky for some homeowners who have less of a green thumb and more of the touch of death for plants. If you need help implementing your own xeriscape design ideas, connect with xeriscaping pros in your area who can help you maintain your current landscape while working with you to plan a new water-wise upgrade.