Lawns may feel lush underfoot, but they cost a lot of water to maintain. Increasingly, homeowners are looking to eco-friendly landscaping as a way to conserve water, save money, and beautify their yards.
Creating a water-wise landscape isn’t complicated, but there are a few things to know before you get started.
What’s wrong with lawns?
Despite the popularity of lawns, they’re not the most practical option in drought-prone climates. Lawns take a lot of resources—both natural and financial—to maintain.
Homeowners apply water, fertilizer, and pesticides to keep turfgrasses green in climates where they don’t naturally thrive.
Creating a more eco-friendly landscape doesn’t have to mean giving up on having lawn completely. Homeowners can plant a drought-tolerant turfgrass like bahiagrass and centipede grass, plant an alternative ground cover like creeping thyme or sedum, or use artificial turf in open, walkable spaces.
How can homeowners create eco-friendly landscapes?
Landscaping with water conservation in mind is known as xeriscaping. Plants in a xeriscaped yard require little to no irrigation because they’re adapted to the natural rainfall of the region. Done right, a xeriscaped yard can be lush and colorful throughout the growing season. Homeowners applying the principles of xeriscaping should pay particular attention to landscape design, irrigation, soil health, and plant choice.
- Landscape design: By taking note of topography, sun exposure, shade, and other landscape features, homeowners can design their yard to minimize irrigation needs. For example, low areas where water drains during rainfall are ideal for landscape plants, while higher, dryer areas are more suited to hardscape features like patios.
- Irrigation: Plants in a xeriscaped yard may require irrigation when young and during periods of drought. Drip irrigation is a conservation-minded alternative to sprinklers. If relying on sprinklers, water in the early morning or late evening to minimize evaporative loss.
- Soil health: Healthy soils with high levels of organic matter retain more water than poor soils, reducing the need to irrigate. Homeowners should perform regular soil tests to assess soil health and amend with compost, fertilizers, and other soil conditioners as needed.
- Plant choice: Some plants have higher water needs than others. In hot, dry areas especially, homeowners should opt for drought-tolerant plants like cacti, succulents, and native flowers, trees, and shrubs. Native plants are a smart choice because they are uniquely adapted to a specific region’s climate. Homeowners can use the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder tool to identify plants native to their region. Remember, it always starts with having the right plant in the right location.
This isn’t all homeowners can do to make their landscape more water-wise. There are additional strategies to conserve water outdoors, such as:
- Rainwater collection: By collecting rainwater into barrels and diverting it to landscape plants, homeowners reduce their impact on the local water supply. This helps create a more sustainable local watershed. Placing rainwater barrels below gutter downspouts is also an effective strategy for diverting rainfall away from a home’s foundation.
- Grey water collection: Grey water collection makes use of a household’s spent water for irrigation. The water may be from showers, dishes, laundry, or another household source, excluding sewage water. The Greywater Guide cites that a family of four produces enough grey water to irrigate over 2,400 square feet of yard. However, homes using a grey water system must take care to avoid toxic cleaners and detergents.
- Mulching: Mulching around plantings traps moisture in the soil, so less water is lost to evaporation. It’s an effective strategy for reducing irrigation needs. However, homeowners should leave space between the mulch and a plant’s stem or trunk to avoid harming the plant.
Eco-friendly landscaping is perfect for homeowners who love to throw on a pair of garden gloves and get their boots dirty outside. However, you don’t have to be a gardener extraordinaire to achieve a water-wise landscape. A xeriscaped yard can be as simple as a hardscaped yard dotted with succulent plants or as elaborate as a colorful garden filled with native plants.