Drought Landscape Design: Water Conservation Through Water-Saving Landscaping
Drought-tolerant landscape, particularly when using native plants, can also save you time and money when it comes to ongoing maintenance, beautifies your home in a way that complements the local, natural scenery, and can reduce your home’s environmental impact.
By choosing plants, ground covers and irrigation methods that require less water, you can make your home’s landscaping more water and energy efficient, create an enjoyable outdoor living space and avoid surcharges for excessive water usage in drought-prone areas that implement these excess-use fees.
Water conservation through water-saving landscape design can be as simple as limiting the space dedicated to natural grass lawns – which are among the top residential water wasters – or it can involve a complete xeriscape design for a new yard or a xeriscape overhaul for your current landscaping.
What is Xeriscape?
Xeriscaping is a method of landscaping designed specifically to address the water conservation needs of homeowners and business owners in arid and semiarid regions, such as Southern California and the majority of the southwestern United States.
This landscaping technique includes the creation of welcoming, visually appealing landscapes using native plant species, drought-tolerant plants, water-saving irrigation methods, mulch and other ground covers that do not require water and can increase the ground’s ability to retain moisture.
Aside from helping you conserve water and save money on utilities each month, xeriscaping with native plant species can also eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers, lower your carbon footprint by eliminating the need for yard equipment that uses fossil fuels, decrease the amount of time required to maintain your landscaping and provide a natural habitat for wildlife in your area.
A well-designed xeriscape can even increase your home’s curb appeal and, in some cases, the value of your property.
The concept of xeriscape is simple: to conserve water through soil improvement, proper irrigation, appropriate use of ground covers, and the use of native, drought-resistant plants.
However, designing and implementing a successful xeriscape project requires the consideration of many factors, including which plants to use, the current state of your soil, the amount of sun and shade received in different areas of your yard at various times of the day, and the need to create a visually pleasing, usable outdoor space that fits your family’s needs.
Some homeowners may find this to be an enticing project that they would like to take on as their own xeriscape designer, calling in outside contractors only as needed, such as to install pavers for a patio or artificial grass after they remove their natural grass lawn.
Other homeowners may want to consider hiring a professional landscape designer with experience in xeriscaping.
Enlisting the help of a professional with the knowledge and experience needed to complete a successful xeriscaping project is often the best way to ensure you will be satisfied with the end result.
This also helps you ensure that the finished landscape will meet your water conservation goals, as well as your goals related to how you would like to use the space.
Tips for Conserving Water with Xeriscaping, Drought-Resistant Plants and Ground Covers
Know Before You Grow —
Before you start planting things you have seen in magazines and assume are perfect choices for your water-conserving design, get to know the specifics for your area.
This includes researching the amount and distribution of natural rainfall each year, which native plants are specific to your region and likely to thrive in your xeriscape, which exotic plants to avoid due to their invasive tendencies, and which natural turf options have adapted to your region and require the least amount of water.
Be sure you select your native plants based on the size they will eventually be, rather than the size they currently are.
You will also want to plan any tree planting to maximize shade to reduce evaporation and to possibly use as windbreaks or natural climate control options for your home.
Before you begin installing your water-saving landscape, map out your yard to better understand naturally occurring drainage and areas that receive the most sun at different times of the day.
This will inform which types of plants and ground covers should be used in various sections of your yard and will help you determine irrigation zones that group together elements with similar watering requirements.
Limit Your Lawn —
If you simply must have a natural grass lawn, limit the area dedicated to this feature and work with your local gardening center to find an option that will thrive in your region with minimal water.
You might also consider forgoing natural grass and opting for artificial turf, which will allow you to use the area just as you would with natural grass, but will not require the same level of maintenance and water needed to maintain a natural lawn.
Test Your Soil —
For the most satisfying end result, consider testing your soil and making improvements before planting.
You can purchase a home soil testing kit if you are the do-it-yourself type, or you can enlist the assistance of your local garden center to test your soil for you.
If you find that your soil is too alkaline or does not have an adequate phosphorous content, both of which are common in soils found in the southwestern United States, consider adding bone meal or rock phosphate to remedy this.
If your design does not include an abundance of cacti and succulents, compost is a great way to add organic material to your soil to prepare for planting.
Bring on the Mulch —
Covering the soil around plants with several inches of mulch is a good idea overall, regardless of whether or not xeriscaping is part of your design.
Using natural options, such as wood chips, compost, bark or leaves, helps the soil retain moisture, while also helping you keep weeds and erosion to a minimum.
These natural mulch options will break down into the soil over time, which can improve your soil, but also means that you will need to add more mulch on occasion.
Saving Water Without Having a Backyard Desert
It is a common misconception that xeriscape and other water-saving landscape designs will inevitably result in a backyard that looks more like a barren desert than an inviting oasis.
While a desert landscape is certainly possible and can be an attractive option, you do not have to base your backyard design around cacti and gravel.
You are in control of just how much water your landscaping saves or uses, and can choose the types of plants, water features, patios and turf options that appeal to you.
This could include simply replacing one section of your existing natural grass lawn with a rock garden, creating a border with flowering native plants, or designing a luxurious outdoor setting with meandering paver walkways and vibrant synthetic turf that can transform your yard into a country club-like setting.
Saving water through landscape design can take on many forms depending on your preferences and your family’s needs.
Here are a few examples of landscaping options that conserve water & go well beyond the stereotypical idea of xeriscaping:
1. Create a backyard with activity areas for adults and children.
One option is to use a combination of synthetic grass and paving stones to create patios and play areas that will appeal to guests of all ages.
For example, you can save water by using artificial turf, instead of natural grass, as ground cover for playgrounds, a putting green, an area for lawn bowling or croquet, or your own miniature golf course.
To go along with these areas, you can use pavers to create walkways and patios for an outdoor kitchen, dining area or pool deck.
With this type of landscaping, you will be saving water and money every month, and most people would not even notice that you designed your yard with water conservation in mind.
2. Design a backyard oasis for meditation, yoga and relaxation.
You can also save water while creating a usable, appealing outdoor space by designing a private retreat that is just steps away from your home.
For this option, you could consider stone walkways that wind through a rock garden with ornamental grasses, building an outdoor yoga deck or meditation gazebo, creating a hidden reading area with a hammock stretched over artificial grass or planting borders with drought-resistant lavender bushes that will bring beautiful color and an inviting, relaxing aroma to your yard.
3. Design the yard of your dreams – just do it in zones.
Maybe you really want a lush, natural grass lawn, a garden filled with tropical plants or a waterfall that splashes over rocks and into a manmade stream running through your yard.
While these landscaping options are not going to score any points with water conservationists, you can still take steps to use less water by dividing your landscaping into zones.
For example, plant your natural lawn and tropical plants in the section of your yard that best suits their soil, sun and watering needs.
Establish an irrigation zone just for these water-loving elements so that you can give them adequate moisture without wasting water in other areas of your yard.
To help make up for the water used in this zone, perhaps you could install a large patio, a rock garden or a section of native plants in a different zone, which will require little or no irrigation.
Other Water-Saving Tips
Here are a few more general tips that can help you save water regardless of whether or not you currently have landscaping designed for water conservation:
1. If you have an existing irrigation system, consider requesting an audit from your local water company.
2. This service is sometimes offered at no charge or for a small fee, and involves testing your irrigation system to recommend needed repairs or suggested improvements that can enhance your water conservation efforts.
3. Rather than regularly rinsing down your driveway, patios, walkways and other hardscape elements, use a broom to sweep away debris and dirt.
4. If you have a natural grass lawn or plants that require daily watering, water in the early morning and avoid watering at times that are typically hotter or windier where you live.
Afternoon watering can lead to a loss of water through evaporation, resulting in inefficient water usage.
5. If you use an automatic irrigation system, such as automatic sprinklers, install a rain sensor that can automatically detect rain to avoid watering your lawn or other landscaping when natural precipitation will water it for you.
6. If your yard design includes flowerbeds, individual shrubs or trees, planted borders or container gardens, consider using low-volume drip irrigation to deliver water to the roots in the most efficient manner.
7. If you use sprinklers, make sure the sprinkler heads are not being blocked by bushes, ground covers or ornamental grasses that may have grown significantly since the time of install.
8. Consider installing a controller that automatically adjusts your sprinkler schedule to reflect the changing seasons and your landscape’s changing water needs.
This can also be accomplished manually by taking just a few minutes every month or two to adjust the schedule of your sprinkler system.
Water-Conservation Through Landscape Design: Final Thoughts
Designing and installing water-saving landscaping really does not require any more time or effort than installing more typical yard design options; however, the time and money saved on maintenance and utilities throughout the years can be significant.
There is no need to sacrifice visual appeal or function in exchange for saving water when you can use attractive options like pavers, artificial grass, rock gardens, flowering native plants and ornamental grasses to create a beautiful, inviting space that can be designed to suit your family’s needs.
Because of this, you can enjoy the benefits of xeriscape and other water-saving options, while still having the perfect outdoor entertaining space, children’s play area, backyard putting green or pet-friendly yard of your dreams.