Xeriscaping Guide for Your Lawn and Garden

xeriscaping with drought-tolerant plants in small pebble gravel

Did you know that the average home uses more water outdoors than indoors? Almost 50 percent of water usage is for lawn and plant maintenance. Fortunately for your wallet and the environment, xeriscaping allows homeowners to have a beautiful, diverse, and thriving landscape, and conserve water at the same time. 

Xeriscaping is a landscape design that uses plants and materials that require little or no water other than what the environment naturally provides.

What is xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping is landscaping that reduces or eliminates the need for water beyond what naturally occurs in the climate, like what comes from rainfall. This landscape design uses drought-tolerant plants. Principles of xeriscaping include replacing grass with mulch, rocks, soil, and drought-resistant plants, especially plants native to the specific area.

In the early 1980s, the Denver, Colorado water department coined the term xeriscape by combining the Greek word “xero” with the word “scape.” “Xero” is the prefix for dry in Greek. 

The concept was that people living in dry climates should use plants that thrive in those conditions. The water department encouraged homeowners to use less water in their gardens and lawns. As a result, this urban area was one of the first to embrace “xeroscaping.” 

Many homeowners throughout the United States have since joined the resource-conscious practice. 

Benefits of xeriscaping

It’s not hard to understand why so many people have embraced this water-conserving landscape design. Contrary to what some may have assumed initially, xeriscaping does not mean you have to forgo a full, vibrant, and interesting yard. It allows homeowners to have an attractive display of plants and other features while saving water, money, and the environment. Here is an explanation of some of the benefits:

Xeriscaping saves water

Water use is significantly reduced by xeriscaping. Because plants are native and or drought-tolerant, they need little to no water other than what occurs naturally. Since grass is partially or completely replaced, water usage for lawn care is also decreased.

Xeriscaping saves money

Homeowners can experience lower water bills because plants need little or no water beyond rainfall. These types of plants also decrease the usage of irrigation systems or eliminate the need for them, allowing individuals to save the money they would have otherwise spent purchasing supplies or hiring professionals to design or install a system.

Replacing grass with mulch, rocks, soil, or drought-tolerant plants has the rippling effect of saving money. You either do not have to buy a mower or, if you want, you can make a little money by selling the one you have. 

Xeriscaping saves time

Drought-tolerant plants are typically low maintenance, in general. If nothing else, they save the time it would take to manually water them or monitor and operate the sprinklers. 

Grass replaced with mulch, rocks, soil, or drought-tolerant plants eliminates the need for lawn mowing. 

Xeriscaping protects the environment

Toxic chemicals to keep lawns lush and thriving are no longer needed. Or, if you reduce your grassy areas instead of eliminating the lawn, you will need less chemicals. So, fewer chemicals from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers runoff into the water supply. 

The ecosystem is preserved as insects, pollinators, and other organisms and wildlife are exposed to fewer harmful chemicals. Furthermore, planting native plants provides these same creatures with natural habitats and food sources.

How to xeriscape

These xeriscaping principles will help you implement a xeriscape design:

1. Planning your xeriscape design

backyard lawn with xeriscaping along the fenceline
Korye Logan | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

You must get to know the outside of your home like the back of your hand – no … better. Knowing the following characteristics of your yard will help determine what types of plants to purchase and where to locate them on your property:

Sunniness and shadiness: You need to know more than how sunny and shady your property is in general. Homeowners must be familiar with how light moves in their yards in different areas, at different times of the day, and at different times of the year.

Does your yard have south exposure or west exposure? The largest water loss happens near buildings or hard surfaces with southern or western exposures. Southern exposure receives the sun most of the day and is also called full sun. Western exposure gets sun for several hours, and most of that time is during the afternoon. West exposure is considered part sun.

Drainage and Slopes: Water evaporates and runs off differently on slopes, and the amount of sun exposure can affect the movement of water on slopes even more. 

Soil: The type of soil determines how it retains and drains water and airflow, and therefore, how it affects plant growth. 

Use the above information to section your yard based on watering needs, so plants with similar needs are planted together. These sections will be your hydrozones. Make the largest area of your yard the area that requires less water. The most drought-resistant plants will be grouped in this location. Zones that need greater amounts of water should be closer to the house so you can more easily see when they need watering. 

And for more design inspiration, check out the xeriscape ideas we’ve collected.

2. Test your soil

soil in hand

Test your soil to know how it retains water and its nutrient content. Be sure to test soil from different areas of your yard, especially from each of your hydrozones. 

You may have to re-design your hydrozones based on the soil test results. For example, clay or silt soils hold onto water more tightly and do not drain as quickly as sandy soil, which affects watering requirements. Instead of changing your design, you can improve the soil by adding organic matter to it. 

3. Reduce or eliminate turfgrass

front yard with xeriscaping
Cory Doctorow | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Only leave turfgrass in areas where it is needed. Do not put grass in locations where it will compete for water and sun with other vegetation, like around shrubs and trees. Be mindful that large plants block sunlight from getting to the lawn. As a rule, do not plant or leave grass in difficult-to-reach or mow areas, like sloped land or corners.

If you want to keep some grassy areas, go with native grasses. Whether they’re classified as warm-season, cool-season, or transition zone grasses, some grasses are more drought-tolerant than others, so some require less water than others to stay green and attractive.

4. Choose the right plants

xeriscape landscaping with small bushes
Tom Hilton | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

While drought-tolerant and or native plants are the best option, adapted plants also work well. You don’t want plants just because they are native if they require a lot of water. 

Selection criteria are also driven by whether the plant will do well in your yard’s conditions. Plants adapted for your property’s environment require less maintenance. Our list of the best plants for xeriscaping can help you find the perfect ones for your yard.

Remember to group plants that share the same watering requirements. Make sure plants have enough room to grow, and that their growth will not interfere with utilities or power lines.

5. Spread mulch

person putting mulch on a garden bed
Maria Sbytova | Canva Pro | License

Mulching is a wonderful way to retain moisture, suppress weed growth, reduce erosion, and control temperature extremes. And it looks good, too. Organic mulch has the added benefit of adding nutrients to the soil when it breaks down.

Avoid putting mulch too close to the base of shrubs and trees; doing so can damage them.

Here are some examples of organic and inorganic mulch


  • Straw
  • Pine needles
  • Pine bark
  • Wood chips
  • Leaves
  • Compost
  • Grass clippings


  • Rocks
  • Rubber
  • Stone
  • Crushed seashell

6. Irrigate properly

person adjusting a gear-driven rotor sprinkler head in the lawn
BanksPhotos | Canva Pro | License

Different plants require different irrigation. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation work well for waterwise plants. These systems deliver moisture to the root zones and reduce evaporation and water waste that can happen when hard surfaces, like driveways and sidewalks, get watered, too. 

If you’re using a sprinkler system for turfgrass, water early in the morning, deeply, and less often. 

If you have a raised garden bed, you’ll want to ensure those plants get enough to drink. After all, you’ve worked hard to design and construct that work of art. Drip systems are ideal for watering these plants, shrubs, trees, and narrow areas.

Make sure you’re following guidelines for the best time to water your grass and garden, and that you check your soil moisture so that you can make adjustments for any under or overwatering.

7. Properly maintain your xeriscape

xeriscape landscaping with a small fountain
Jeremy Levine | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Xeriscaping takes less maintenance, but it still requires some work. Practice good lawn and garden care habits. Treat pest and disease problems quickly. Cut turfgrass at the correct intervals and maintain it at the proper heights. Fertilize at the right time intervals and amounts. Keep the soil aerated.

To make sure your xeriscaped design is always thriving and beautiful, you may want to use a professional landscape designer specializing in xeriscape planning.

Best plants and other ideas for xeriscaping

The best plants for xeriscaping depend on your area of the country and yard conditions, but we’ve listed some that fit the bill, in general. We’ve also included a couple of design plan ideas, too.


These beauties are designed for droughts. Succlents survive on little water, like mist and dew, making them great options for drought-tolerant plants. They store water in their leaves, stems, and roots. 

In some areas of the country, succulents may have to become houseplants during the winter to protect them from freezing weather and excessive rain. Here are some examples of succulents:

  • Aloe vera 
  • Jade Plant
  • Common purslane
  • Agave


Sedums are a category of succulents. Not all sedums are succulents, but most of them are. Sedums can help you achieve a colorful garden longer because they typically bloom late in the growing season.

  • Giant Jelly Bean
  • Autumn Joy
  • Golden Sedum
  • Coastal Stonecrop


Groundcover is a great option to replace grass on slopes and in difficult-to-reach areas. Choose a groundcover that resembles grass or groundcovers that flower into magnificent colorful blossoms. This flora spreads quickly to cover up bare spots left by the removal of turfgrass.

  • Crossvine
  • Red Columbine
  • Virginia strawberry
  • Culver’s root


Brighten up your yard and life with vibrant wildflowers. Find some native to your state. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Anise hyssop
  • Blue flax
  • Blanketflower
  • Dune sunflower

Terrace the land

A front yard or backyard that is sloped can benefit from terracing. This means turning it into a few flattened pieces of land, so it looks like steps. Terracing a sloped area slows runoff and gives the water time to be absorbed.

Xeriscape gardens

Make a section of your yard or your whole yard an xeriscape garden and fill it with a variety of native, drought-tolerant plants in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Use rocks and mulch to add visual appeal and texture. Include a recirculating fountain and a bird bath or birdhouse.

If your xeriscape garden area is large and sloped, terrace it. Add a bench or pergola on one of the levels.

FAQ about xeriscaping your lawn and garden

Are perennials or annuals more drought-tolerant? 

A plant’s drought tolerance depends more on its native habitat and specific adaptation than whether it is a perennial or annual. Both perennials and annuals have drought-resistant varieties.

However, an advantage of perennials is that a lot of them develop deep root systems because they have a longer lifespan than annuals. This is especially true of native perennials. Deeper root systems enable perennials to access moisture deep in the soil, which is an advantage in a drought.

Where can I find plants that are native to my area? 

You can always ask your local nursery. The internet is another source. Look on your city, state, or county’s conservation district, land conservancy, or native plant society website.

How can I xeriscape on a budget?

Hiring a professional to xeriscape your yard is costly, about $5 to $20 per square foot, including materials. Most homeowners spend between $10,000 and $19,000, depending on project design, size, and other variables.

You can save money by doing as much as you can yourself. Plan ahead of time, get to know your yard, and do your research. Lay out your plan thoroughly before executing it. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Ask people you know for seeds. 
  • Buy seeds instead of mature plants. Buying seeds is usually cheaper than buying plants. 
  • Because perennials grow back for several seasons, plant drought-tolerant perennials. You won’t have to buy new ones every season like annuals.
  • Collect grass clippings from when you mow the grass and use them as mulch. If you plan on getting rid of your entire lawn, cut and collect the clippings first. It will at least save you money on mulch initially. 

Have a great waterwise landscape

Getting a new look is always exciting. This home improvement project will not only give your yard a makeover, but it will conserve water, save you money in the long run, and protect the environment at the same time. 

Although xeriscaping can be costly initially, you’ll pocket the money you save because of reduced watering requirements; no longer having to fertilize the lawn; and no need to buy, replace, or pay for other costs associated with lawn care maintenance, like expenses for herbicides and aeration. 

Are you ready for your new, waterwise lifestyle? Although you may be ready for it, if you still have grass, it still needs to be mowed, watered, and edged. Let Lawn Love connect you with lawn care pros to do the lawn care and landscaping chores for you. 

Maine Photo Credit: leighklotz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

LaShonda Tucker

LaShonda Tucker’s passion for maintaining a healthy lifestyle through organic herbs, fruits, and veggies leads her to research and learn about plants and insects. She loves sharing her knowledge to help others achieve their lawn care and landscaping goals.