Want To Transition Out Of Your Unsustainable Lawn? Try Xeriscaping Instead

September 21, 2021

house with xeriscaped lawn

Though verdant in color and lush in appearance, it’s time we expose the average American lawn for what it truly is—a green desert that is often unlivable for any plant or animal that does not identify as perfectly manicured grass.

Since the 1950s, the American Dream has grown synonymous with a white picket fence, a suburban house, and an unnaturally green lawn, sprayed with pesticides and requiring large quantities of water that suck resources from natural, local ecosystems. 

And although it is easy to think of water as a replenishable, reusable good, the reality of the matter is that water conservation is a major issue of our generation. 

According to WaterCalculator.org, water managers predict 40 out of 50 states will suffer from water shortages in the upcoming decade, affecting the most vulnerable populations within our communities. 

Beyond that, conserving water also saves energy, with a 2012 Stanford article revealing that over 8% of California’s total energy consumption went to water purification/distribution alone.

If you are looking to take charge of your water consumption, all the while transforming your yard into an ecological celebration of local, native soils and plants, then read on to explore if xeriscaping might be the solution for you.

What Is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping first grew in popularity in Denver, Colorado, when the Water Department partnered with a non-profit to educate the local citizens about water-conscious landscapes. Since then, xeriscaping has exploded across the country (especially in drier regions) as a sustainable and stylish way to conserve outdoor water usage.

Derived from the Greek word, xeros, meaning “dry,” xeriscaping is the art and practice of dry landscaping, or the creation of naturally drought-resistant landscapes that require little to no excess water. A mixture of low water and native plants, xeriscaping is a sustainable alternative to the traditional lawn, which, on average, amounts to 9 billion gallons of water used per day in the United States alone.  

According to Gardenista, 60–80% of water used by individual households went to landscape irrigation alone. After switching to a xeriscaped lawn, researchers saw homeowner water bills cut by nearly 50%. 

Other benefits include a reduction of weeds, minimized use of pesticides, and a fraction of the time spent on typical lawn maintenance. 

How To Get Started

Step One: Consider Your Location

The first step in creating your dream xeriscaped lawn is to research your local region.  

The frequency of rainfall, temperature, and dryness all play a factor in what to plant and where to plant it, so while you may be tempted to plant a yard full of succulents in upstate New York, you may want to think again.

By researching your region, you will gain insight into the best types of plants, soils, and mulches to use for your specific region and place. Understanding whether your soil is naturally sandy or rocky, or how much sun versus shade your lawn gets on a daily basis also provides crucial information as to what will and will not work for your yard. 

Once you’ve done some preliminary research (or consulted a local landscaper), it’s time to pick your plants. 

Step Two: Plan Your Plants

For anyone contemplating a xeriscaped lawn, researching local native species used for landscaping, plus the array of imported species from dry climates around the world, is key to your success. 

Although only available at this time in 20 states, The Native Plant Finder is a growing index of native plants local to your specific zip code. 

In addition to native plants, incorporating drought-resistant plants can also provide texture and variety to your xeriscaped lawn. Examples include:

  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Sumac
  • Buffalo Grass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Coneflowers
  • & More

Step Three: Research Soils and Mulch

When choosing to xeriscape your lawn, be sure to incorporate local mulch and soils. Mulch reduces evaporation from the surface of the soil in addition to regulating soil temperature, reducing weeds, and adding a layer of insulation [1].

Materials that can be used as mulch include:

  • Straw
  • Garden bark chips
  • Gravel
  • Rocks 
  • Recycled rubber bark 

Investigate your local area to find the type of mulch that is most cost-effective and practical for your yard.

Step Four: Design Your Lawn

The last, and most exciting step, is figuring out how to design your landscape. Consider modeling your lawn after a particular xeriscaping style, such as Southwestern or Mediterranean, or creating something entirely new. Regardless of what direction you decide to move forward with, keep the following in mind: 

Incorporate White Space

White space is a basic design principle that emphasizes the incorporation of negative space into your landscape or design. It’s a less-is-more mentality, with blank spaces utilized to emphasize the spaces with plants. In the case of xeriscaping, this will be where your mulch/soil goes, to showcase your more elaborate and elegant plant tapestries spread across your ground.

Add Irrigation

Since the quantity of water that your xeriscaped lawn needs will depend entirely on the types of plants, soils, and location you choose, The Landscaping Network recommends, as a rule of thumb, watering deeply and infrequently, rather than frequent shallow sprays. This is because deep infrequent watering encourages plant roots to grow downward into damper, cooler soil, as opposed to the sunbaked, drier soil counterpart that lives toward the top of the ground.

When it comes to water, xeriscapers recommend a range of watering tactics, from drip irrigation to hand watering, depending on the amount of time and energy you are willing to invest. The benefit of drip irrigation is that you can connect it to rainwater harvesting systems and use natural rainwater to water your plants, as opposed to utilizing city water instead.


Ultimately, every xeriscaped lawn is unique and requires careful customization to create a space that encourages flourishing of the plants, soils, and mulches native to your region. Whether you live in the rainy, lush region of the Pacific Northwest, or the dry arid heat of Phoenix, Arizona, take back your lawn and transform it into the eco-paradise of your dreams with these xeriscaping tricks and tips above.

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Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Dana Drosdick
Dana is a marketer living in Saratoga Springs, NY with a passion for all things related to stewardship, faith, wellness, and personal enrichment. Her work has been featured in various Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, The Odyssey Online, and The Banner Magazine. Follow her at @danadrosdick on Instagram for foodie trends, her latest book recommendations, and far too many photos of clementines.


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