Xeriscape Design Ideas

Dig into low water-use landscaping. This garden style is low-maintenance but big on beauty.

Arroyo Project: Native Plantings

Arroyo Project: Native Plantings

Here is a good overview of the many native plantings along the arroyo which will help conserve water while maintaining an attractive xeriscape design. Among the plants are Yucca Rostrata (in the foreground), Mexican Feather Grass to the far right, and in the background, Mystic Spires Blue Sage, Knockout Roses and Salvia.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Explore xeriscape design, and you’ll discover that this garden style is not only environmentally friendly, it’s also overflowing with head-turning good looks. Many homeowners confuse xeriscape with zero-scape, thinking that choosing a xeriscaped yard means accenting mostly hardscape with a few plants. That’s not the case. Yards that embrace xeriscape ideas actually feature all manner of plants and garden styles, including cottage gardens. The term simply refers to a landscape that minimizes water use.

To renovate a water-guzzling yard for a xeriscape design, start by examining areas of your landscape that consume the most water. A lawn usually ranks as No. 1 in water consumption in the average yard. In a xeriscape design, lawn areas are reduced and often replanted with grasses that survive on rainfall, even in arid regions.

Buffalo grass and blue grama grass are native grasses that need minimal input to look good. New turf-type cultivars of buffalo grass create a toe-tickling lawn that approximates traditional fescue. Do your homework to be sure you select the cultivar that will perform best in your region. Reveille is another low water-use grass that’s been developed by a private company in association with Texas A&M University.

Other xeriscape ideas include creating irrigation zones, which hinges on grouping plants by water needs. This xeriscape design principle is a garden practice that actually just makes sense—and also promotes a healthier garden. To create irrigation zones, you have to plan your landscape, which is another core principle of xeriscape design. Whether you’re starting from scratch or renovating existing plantings, careful planning results in the most effective xeriscaped areas.

Irrigation must also focus on efficiency in xeriscape designs. Watering by hand, soaker hoses, bubbler emitters and drip irrigation systems provide efficient water delivery, ensuring water reaches roots. For sprinklers, select ones that deliver larger drops of water closer to the ground. Avoid overhead sprinklers or ones that release a fine mist.

Xeriscaping Ideas

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Westlake Project: Build a Moat!

Mark Biechler of Pearson Landscape in Austin, Texas created a solution for a homeowner in Westlake, Texas whose home tended to flood during heavy rainfall. To solve the problem, a moat was built around the house (designed by Gregory Thomas of CG&S Design Build).

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 1, Bring On the Heavy Equipment

The crew gets busy building their first line of defense against flooding - an elongated mound called a berm which will be transformed into an attractive garden bed for native plants upon completion.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 2, Dig it!

It might look like the beginnings of a man made creek but this three foot deep moat is going to trap and reroute that recurring rainwater runoff.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 3, Rock and Roll

The down and dirty part of the job includes breaking up large rocks and setting them aside for later use as structural support.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 4, Call in the Reinforcements

The newly dug moat is now ready for boulders, stacked in two layers, that will become the foundation walls.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Bierchler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 5, Curves in All the Right Places

The final phase for the moat, which curves around the house, is to add a gravel bed. Besides adding a pleasing landscape feature to the yard, it will also help move and redistribute excess water into the ground.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 6, Walk This Way

A newly designed elevated walkway provides a more enticing entrance to the home while acting as another barrier against flooding.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 7, Ready for a Beauty Treatment

The front yard berm is now ready for landscapers to disguise its true purpose as a water barrier by turning it into a bedding area with curb appeal.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 8, Go Native!

To help establish the berm as a natural defense against street flooding, the mound is landscaped with native plants in the manner of a typical rain garden which conserves ground water.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Step 9, Beautiful Containment

Bordered by new grass and native plantings, the moat not only sports a beautiful looking natural design but it is also ready to handle the worst rainstorms. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: The Makeover is Complete

Check out the completed front entrance in all of its glory, looking much more stylish and inviting than before.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Envy of the Neighborhood

The full effect of the renovated yard and entrance is visible in this view from the far end of the front yard. You can see how the natural landscaping adds color and texture to the yard while protecting it from street flooding. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: More Out Back

Just as aesthetically pleasing as the front yard makeover is the newly reconstructed back yard which presents an organic, natural landscape designed for water conservation.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Westlake Project: Bring On the Rain

Let it rain, let it pour. This house can now easily handle water as deep as 8 inches or more in its gravel covered moat that redistributes the excess. To appreciate the work involved in this installation, refer back to image 1 when the moat was being dug. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: The Dry Creek Design

The second project by Mark Biechler of Pearson Landscape in Austin, Texas involved creating an arroyo (dry creek bed) between two properties that would effectively handle storm water runoff and also serve as photogenic xeriscaping.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Step 1, Groundbreaking

The property line between the two homes is where storm water runoff seeps into the foundations of both residences. Together the homeowners split the costs of creating a dry creek that would handle this situation.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Step 2, Heavy Lifting Required

Grass and plantings have been removed from the side yard in preparation for the installation of these large boulders as retaining walls for the dry creek bed.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Step 3, Hardscape Ingredients

Here is a good view of the dry creek foundation being created with rocks and gravel and integrated into the front yard design.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Step 4, Natural Defenses

The two layers of boulders will serve to reinforce and protect the house from any water trying to enter from the left yard while directing excess water in the dry creek to the front of the house.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Step 5, The Slant Solution

Due to the sloping angle of the yard near the fence, the arroyo needs to run the length of the house from the front to the back in order to effectively withstand the effects of flooding from excess rain.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Step 6, A Rain Garden to Share

Landscapers are installing native plants on the property between the two houses which will act as a rain garden, absorbing the water and directing it underground where it will be distributed and conserved.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Ready for Action

This street view of the completed dry creek shows how on the far left, any excess water will be channeled over the gravel and large rock slabs into the gutter.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: The Waterfall Effect

Notice the dry creek bed design and imagine how it will look during a heavy rain when the water will be routed over the gravel and rocks creating a small, natural looking waterfall effect.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Suitable for Framing

Looking back toward the front of the house, you can see the completed arroyo which is enhanced by the attractive border plantings and a natural design that takes advantage of the rocky terrain.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Arroyo Project: Double Duty Beauty

Many native plantings along the arroyo help conserve water while adding color and decoration such as Yucca rostrata (in the foreground), Mexican feathergrass to the far right, and in the background, 'Mystic Spires Blue' sage, Knockout roses and salvia.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Mark Biechler, www.pearsonlandscape.com

Using mulch is a key xeriscape idea. Mulch slows water evaporation from soil, moderates soil temperature, helps reduce weeds and gives planting areas a finished look. Choose a mulch that complements your garden style. Stones make a wonderful mulch for a succulent garden design and also fit naturally into Zen rock gardens. Shredded bark is a common mulch choice in English garden design.

Xeriscape design also recites the mantra of right plant, right place. When you match plants to the proper growing conditions, you’ll get the best results with the least amount of effort. It’s also a good idea to amend soil to provide the most ideal footing for plants. What kind of soil amendment you need depends on the type of plants you’ll be growing, as well as the kind of soil you have. Take a soil test to make the best use of your soil amendment budget.

Consider including rainwater recycling in your xeriscape design. Rain barrels provide an easy way to catch and re-use storm water runoff from structures. Examine your landscape during rainfall to discover any other areas that generate runoff. Ponder ways to direct and use that runoff. Sometimes a dry creek can help shuttle runoff from a driveway to a garden area.

Research different materials and concepts for hardscape areas. Xeriscape ideas include choosing paver patterns that allow some open earth between pavers to allow rain to percolate into soil. For instance, you might want to replace a concrete or macadam driveway with gravel, porous paving or turf stone, pavers with openings that allow grass to grow through them.

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