Xeriscaping is a form of dry-plant landscaping that helps reduce your water usage.
It’s optimal for dry climates and deserts, but those conscious of the environment may choose to use xeriscaping as well.
The method has countless benefits, such as being low-maintenance and low-cost.
Here’s what you should know about xeriscaping if you’re interested in using beautiful drought-tolerant plants in your yard to reduce the time, cost, and water associated with maintenance.
1. What is xeriscaping?
Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping done with drought-resistant plants.
It’s most often used in drier climates like the American Southwest, including Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and New Mexico.
Because these locations receive lower annual rainfall than other areas of the country, using eco-minded landscaping methods is a way to protect the environment and save on the costs associated with landscaping.
2. Is it zeroscaping or xeriscaping?
The term xeriscaping is often heard as “zeroscaping” because of the way it is pronounced (zeh-ri-skeip).
Additionally, because xeriscaping can be a minimalist landscaping method depending on the style of the landscaper or homeowner, this furthers the misconception.
The term is derived from the word “xeros”, the Greek word for arid.
This means a xeriscape can be anything from a dry desert to lush Mediterranean gardens.
3. Where is xeriscaping best implemented?
Xeriscaping was largely developed for the desert, and thus, it has become associated with landscaping in dry climates like the American Southwest.
However, xeriscaping is not just for desert climates.
You can xeriscape in any location by prioritizing native, drought-tolerant plants.
The plants that are native and drought tolerant will look different in the Southwest than they will in the Northeast.
However, prioritizing these factors can help you maximize water efficiency and landscape aesthetics while conserving funds.
4. Is xeriscaping only desert plants?
No, this is yet another common misconception.
People often use the term when they are discussing desert plants, but that doesn’t mean the method applies only to desert plants like cactuses and succulents.
In non-desert climates, this practice allows you to use a wide variety of attractive plants.
The difference from traditional landscaping methods comes from xeriscaping’s insistence on using common-sense measures to help conserve water.
For example, in xeriscaping, you group plants that have similar water requirements together.
This helps to save plants from overwatering.
Even if you aren’t trying to save water, it makes sense to separate the “thirsty” plants from those that require less water.
5. Does xeriscaping eliminate the use of lawn grass?
In general, yes.
A common element in xeriscaping is the reduction of lawn grass because it’s a grievous offender of water conservation.
The grass is generally swapped for native plants because they are adapted to the local climate.
This means they’re prepared to grow with the existing resources and require less human-supplied water.
6. How do you practice xeriscaping?
Practicing xeriscaping involves three core choices:
The plants you choose to grow
The plants you choose not to grow
How you organize your plants
7. What are the best plants for xeriscaping?
When practicing xeriscaping, you’ll often be pointed toward xeric plants.
These plants have low water requirements that handle droughts well.
That said, drought tolerance is relative to your area.
A drought-tolerant plant in the northeastern US could be fried in a state like Arizona.
It’s important to keep this in mind as you select plants.
You must choose those that are native to your area or risk losing them altogether.
Here are a few different plants from various categories that you may want to consider when xeriscaping your home.
Groundcover is often what replaces lawn grass.
All of the following ideas will reduce the amount of water that you would otherwise use to water your lawn.
- Arid-region ornamental grasses
- Low-lying succulents
- Small flowers like the Spanish daisy
- Woodchips, bark, gravel, or sand
- Synthetic grass or turf
Families with pets or kids often like synthetic grass as their groundcover option because it still provides a soft area for play without requiring water.
Flowers and herbs
If you love to garden, you may worry that xeriscaping will rob you of the opportunity to care for or view gorgeous blooms.
Here are the drought-resistant flowers that you incorporate into your garden.
- Bee balm
- Russian sage
- Meadow sage
- Western sunflowers
If you’re searching for drought-tolerant trees to plant in your yard, consider these:
- California sycamore
- Olive tree
- Coast live oak
- Tipu tree
- Peruvian pepper tree
- Cottonwood tree
- Palm tree
You don’t have to skimp on the plants just because you’re xeriscaping.
Here are some leafy plants you can use in your yard.
- Fountain grass
- Sweet potato vine
8. What are the benefits of xeriscaping?
Reduced water use
First and foremost, xeriscaping reduces water use.
Water scarcity is among the world’s top crises.
Around 40 percent of people lack access to safe and affordable drinking water across the globe.
Despite 71 percent of the Earth’s surface consisting of water, only 2.5 percent of it is freshwater.
On top of this, two-thirds of that water is locked in glaciers and ice caps.
The remaining fresh water must be split between drinking and irrigating agriculture.
When humans don’t use this responsibly, it leads to depletion at unsustainable rates.
This depletion is currently being exacerbated by climate change.
The average temperature rising is increasing evaporation.
When you choose xeriscaping instead of traditional landscaping, you either reduce or eliminate lawn grass which is the most irrigated crop in the U.S.
Landscaping irrigation consumes an estimated nine billion gallons of freshwater per day, and about half of this water is wasted due to evaporation and runoff.
When you implement xeriscaping on your property, you can save hundreds of gallons of water annually and make your water usage more sustainable.
Reduce reliance on chemicals
When you invest in native plants, they’re most resistant to native pests and diseases.
This means you don’t need to use chemical pesticides to keep your plants healthy.
You can also lay off chemical fertilizers that run off into watersheds and waterways.
This chemical runoff damages ecosystems by depleting oxygen levels and causing algal blooms which can be toxic to both plants and animals.
Saved time and money
Did you know that Americans spend almost $16 billion on lawn care and gardening services annually?
An additional $6 billion goes to gardening supplies like fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides, and fossil fuels for lawn mowers, weeds, and other equipment.
When you choose to xeriscape, you reduce your need for lawn care and supplies related to it.
You also reduce your water use which lowers your monthly bill.
Although you’ll need to invest in a xeriscaping design, most of these purchases will be one-time expenses only.
Additionally, some water utilities will offer rebates on the purchase of certain water-saving equipment like drip irrigation or rain barrels.
Increased aesthetics and better ethics
Most people have a certain idea of how the exterior of a home is supposed to look.
They believe that you have to have that perfect green lawn to complete the look.
However, lawns are the definition of monocultures, which is a single species spread across an area.
When you maintain a lawn, you eliminate competitors (such as weeds) to that one species.
While you may think that weeds threaten your grass, they also serve as food to bees and other pollinators.
Xeriscaping helps to create an aesthetically pleasing diverse habitat for all living things.
You’ll see a variety of smells, colors, buzzing insects, plant shapes, bloom times, etc.
Keep in mind that no garden is natural.
However, you can cultivate a more natural one that’s adapted to the environment which is what xeriscaping aims to do.
9. What are the top xeriscaping tips?
Are you interested in investing in xeriscaping for your yard?
Here are some tips that can help you be the most successful.
Create a garden design and implementation before you begin to tear out your lawn.
Be prepared to spend a large sum upfront. Long-term savings will outweigh short-term costs even if xeriscaping seems expensive in the beginning.
Check with your local water utility for incentives or rebates they may offer.
Consider ground covers, which are attractive low-maintenance, and water-retaining. Here are a few ideas: sedges, thyme, speedwell, liriope, creeping phlox, low-growing sedums, creeping juniper, and sweet woodruff.
Add diversity, texture, and year-round interest to your xeriscape with rocks and small structures.
Prioritize native plants for your xeriscaped yard. They’ve spent millennia adapting to the environment. If you’re not sure about the best plants to choose, your local garden center should be able to help.
10. How much does it cost to xeriscape a yard?
The cost of a xeriscape landscape varies depending on how much you want to invest.
Low-end xeriscape: $3,000
Average xeriscape: $17,000
High-end xeriscape: $24,000
11. How do you xeriscape on a budget?
If you want to start xeriscaping to save time, water, and money, but you don’t have $17,000 to $24,000 to invest, don’t worry!
Here are some steps you can take to get the same results on a budget.
Do the work yourself
Bringing in anyone else to do the work for you will cost a pretty penny.
Instead, design and plant your xeric garden or landscape yourself.
Bypassing professional help will save a lot of money.
However, it pays to do your research because you also risk making mistakes.
Head to your local nursery where they can advise you (for free) on the best native and drought-tolerant plants to purchase for your area.
Then, map out the garden design on grid paper.
Avoid purchased hardscape
The hardscape elements in a xeriscape are often what costs the most to create.
Designs including boulders, river rock, and flagstone will cost you a pretty penny.
If you already have some of these elements in your yard, consider reworking them in your new xeriscape design.
You can incorporate new elements around them or repurpose them in the new design.
Another cost-effective option is to create pathways with DIY steppingstones with a fast-setting concrete mix.
Many homeowners will add artistic elements to the concrete like leaf imprints, small tiles, marbles, etc.
If you like a softer approach, consider gravel, woodchips, and mulch as these are all budget-friendly alternatives to hardscape elements.
You can also add hardscapes later when your budget allows.
Grow from seeds
Plants are expensive.
Instead of purchasing from a nursery, grow your plants from seeds or collect divided, mature plants from friends.
This is always cheaper than buying full-grown plants for your xeric garden.
We suggest growing some annuals and biennials in your garden as the perennials get established.
Some people who don’t have any planting supplies find that growing from seedlings doesn’t necessarily cut their costs at all.
However, you can always look for friends or neighbors with established gardens that are willing to divide their plants for your benefit.
Check Facebook Marketplace or your NextDoor app to see if you can connect with anyone in your local area.
Use non-invasive plants that spread
When you’re planning your xeric garden, make sure you do your research ahead of time.
You want to avoid any invasive species that could spread in your garden.
However, non-invasive species that spread through self-seeding are a great option that allows you to do less work.
An easy way to do this (while minimizing costs) is through runners or dividers.
When you use these, you’ll need to buy fewer plants to fill the space.
Here are some drought-tolerant options that spread by themselves.
- Bearded iris
- Russian sage
- Bee balm
Make your own mulch
All you need to make your own mulch is a shredder or mulcher!
Using this tool, you can create high-quality mulch (better than a nursery or landscape supply store would provide).
Use shredded leaves and small clippings to formulate a mix that xeric plants will love.
That said, you should avoid anything too wet because they typically don’t love that.
Additionally, you should consider placing just a bit of pea gravel at the base of the plants rather than mulch.
This can help you keep them dry and filter just enough water to their roots rather than keeping them moist with mulch.
Xeriscaping provides countless benefits to the environment while saving you time and money.
By using this landscaping method, you can create a Mediterranean garden, a Southwestern desertscape, a minimalist rock garden, or a combination of all these looks.
Consider this route if you want to save the plant, increase your curb appeal, and boost your property’s value.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants, or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.