With intense heat waves and over 75% of the American West experiencing severe drought this summer, you might be wondering how you can do your part to conserve water—to help the environment and to reduce your utility bills.
But how are you supposed to cut back on your water usage and keep up that lush landscaping that makes the neighbors jealous?
The answer: xeriscaping, a not-new but increasingly popular landscaping trend that relies on drought-tolerant plants and smart gardening practices to conserve water. When done right, xeriscaping can add curb appeal and reduce your costs.
Whether you’re a brand-new homeowner looking to create a drought-tolerant backyard, or an experienced gardener adapting to the ever-changing climate, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about xeriscaping.
What is xeriscaping?
Originating in Colorado in the 1980s, xeriscaping was part of a joint initiative between the Denver water department and various nonprofits to educate the public about water-conscious landscaping. Since then, it’s become a growing trend among gardeners and landscapers all over the American West.
“Here in Utah, about 1 out of every 15 projects we do is a xeriscape,” says Perry Bratt, president of the landscaping company Stratton & Bratt. “Though it has evolved some over the years, at its core, xeriscaping is about using as little water as possible.”
But xeriscaping isn’t exclusively about watering your garden less frequently. It’s also about being smart about what you plant and how you landscape—as both of these things have a major impact on how much water you really need.
“The main goal of xeriscaping is to increase landscaping efficiency,” says Elle Meager of Outdoor Happens. “When you increase the landscaping efficiency, the demand for water goes down—and your savings can quickly mount.”
So what does increasing landscaping efficiency actually mean? Let’s dive into some xeriscaping basics to find out.
How to start xeriscaping
Here are some basic concepts of xeriscaping that will help reduce the amount of water your garden needs.
Improve your soil: One of the easiest ways to get started xeriscaping is by improving the moisture-retention abilities of your garden soil.
“If you’re planning to minimize the amount of water that your plants receive, then they need all the help they can get,” says Meager. “That’s why amending the soil and adding compost is one of the core principles of xeriscaping.”
By adding nutrient-rich compost with moisture-retention properties, you’ll help your plants stay healthier and happier between waterings. Consider also adding mulch or peat moss to your topsoil to retain even more moisture.
Ditch your lawn: Another relatively simple way to xeriscape your backyard is by ditching your grass lawn, and any other non-native plants requiring oodles of precious water.
“There are no two ways about it: Your lawn drinks water by the gallon, and she’s still thirsty,” says Meager. “With the way the world is going, thick, green, luscious lawns may eventually become an archaic—and extravagant—luxury item. You could likely save water and money by replacing your costly lawn with less-needier mulch, rocks, silt, soil, or native, drought-resistant plants.”
Prioritize native plants: Not ready to give up a lawn? Then start small by focusing your gardening efforts on plants that don’t need a ton of water—like the ones that grow naturally in your area.
“Native plants have evolved to survive in the area without human intervention, so they can continue to thrive with natural rainfall and weather patterns,” says Bratt. “Not only do local plants generally require less water, but they also usually need less maintenance and fertilizer, live longer, and are naturally great for native species of birds and pollinators.”
Water efficiently: Besides being conscious of how and what you decide to plant in your garden, you’ll also want to come with a revised plan for strategic water usage.
“Imagine a watering system that delivers water as efficiently as possible to your plant’s root system,” says Meager. “That’s the beauty of soaker hoses and drip irrigation.”
If you opt for an irrigation install, just be sure to set things up properly.
“Most excessive water loss on properties is because of overwatering,” says Bratt. “Drip systems typically save water unless, as is often the case, the drip system is allowed to run longer than it should.”
The bottom line
Xeriscaping isn’t hard, but “remember that xeriscaping isn’t an overnight process,” says Meager. “It takes time, commitment, and above all, planning,”
But if you can achieve a water-efficient garden filled with low-maintenance plants and low-cost landscaping, you’ll end up saving money—and helping the environment—in the long run.