Xeri-what? Green Your Lawn For Less

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Xeriscaping, the practice of landscaping with water conservation in mind, is not only good for the environment, but will save you money on water bills, cut down on maintenance, and can add to the appeal of your home. Here's how to incorporate the principles of xeriscape into your own property.
Originally Published: 07/08/10



In New Mexico, where my mother lives, the evening news occasionally exposes overzealous gardeners violating water restrictions. The camera pans over verdant lawns and voluminous flowerbeds, while the anchorperson intones disapprovingly about the residents using more than their share of water.

Water is a precious commodity in the desert, but even if you don't live in a community where there are restrictions, conserving water is always a good idea. For gardeners in any part of the country, one of the most eco-friendly ways of conserving water is by making sure your gardens are planted with drought-resistant plants that are native to your area and that require little or no watering beyond the occasional rainstorm. This technique is called xeriscape, and when it's done right, it will use less water, eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and will require less time and maintenance from you than other gardens might.

To create your own xeriscape, start with these ideas:

  1. Choose plants that need little water. Ask your local nursery or garden store to point you in the direction of drought-resistant plants, or just check for a few tell-tale signs yourself: the plants that have thick, fleshy stems and leaves, have leaves that are hairy or silvery-grey, or leaves that are small or prickly, are often the plants that can survive on less water.

  2. Pick plants native to your region. One of the reasons my mother's neighbors get in trouble for their green lawns is that most grass is not suited to the arid conditions of the Southwest. They'd do better to choose ground cover or plants that are indigenous to the area, and that thrive on low humidity, lots of sun, and little rainfall. No matter where you live, there are plants that are suited for just your climate — work with them!

  3. Water wisely. If you do have to water your plants in-between rain showers, do so efficiently and smartly. Water in the early evenings or early in the morning so that the water won't evaporate in the heat and the sun. Focus your watering directly on the base of the plants so that the roots are able to access the water immediately, and try not to spray water in the unplanted areas in-between — this will also discourage weed growth. Collect water in rain barrels, or use containers in sinks and showers to catch excess running water, and use that to water your plants. You can also water more efficiently by grouping plants together that require similar amounts of water.

  4. Reduce the size of your lawn. It might be hard to imagine a yard without a big green expanse of lawn, but rethinking your property to reduce the amount of water-guzzling grass can be an exercise in creativity — and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much you'll save on your water bill by not having to irrigate your lawn. Increase the size of your patio, create walkways, plant more shrubs or flowerbeds, or cover more open areas with mulch or rock gardens. If you can't imagine your yard without grass, you can try a drought-resistant variety, or you can cover your ground with water-conserving succulents.

  5. Use plenty of mulch. Mulch not only provides an attractive ground cover, but it also thwarts weeds and keeps soil moist.


By thinking smartly about your garden and landscaping, you'll be able to create a water-saving plan that is beneficial for your water bill... and for the Earth.


Do you have any tricks to limit the amount of water you use in your yard? Share your xeriscape tips below.


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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Elaine F. 1 year ago
    we only water the plants when we clean the kiddie swimming pool. we use that water.
  • Ora C. 1 year ago
    And if you do need to water, water early in the morning or at dusk, so less water evaporates.
  • 2 years ago
    I much perefr informative articles like this to that high brow literature.
  • 2 years ago
    I like the saying "cut it high, let it die" for summer grass cutting. I never water my lawn, only my vegetable and flower garden and they get watered from the rain barrel.
  • 3 years ago
    Why doesn't someone come up with a surface made of recycled plastic that looks like grass? Something that doesn't wearout or rot in a couple of years. Then we wouldn't have to cut it and polute the air. And it wouldn't need watered or fertilized.