Low-Water Landscape
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Low-Water Landscape Design Tips

When days lengthen and temperatures rise, so does the water consumption of most American households — and the majority of that water goes to our lawns, gardens and general landscaping needs. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average household uses 15 percent of its water on washing clothes while expending 30 percent on outdoor uses — that’s 8.5 billion gallons of the 29 billion gallons used every day by American households.

Fortunately, with low-water landscaping, you can help to eliminate wasteful outdoor water usage practices while also reducing your overall levels of water consumption. Plus, with a few tips borrowed from the American Southwest’s fast-spreading practice of ultimate water conservation landscaping, also known as xeriscaping, you’ll most likely have a healthier lawn and garden for seasons to come.

The Plan

If you take a casual look at your neighbors’ yards, you might see everything from inefficient sprinkler systems to those who mistakenly water plants in the heat of the day. Whether there are standing puddles or quickly evaporating water, the results are wasteful, and in many instances can actually damage grass, shrubs and flowers.

The first step to low-water consumption, therefore, is to carefully plan a landscape design with these tips in mind:

  • Make a water budget. While planning your new garden or lawn, consider using the WaterSense Water Budget Tool. By simply entering your ZIP code and the size of your yard, this EPA-sponsored tool will immediately tell you if the landscape you’re designing adheres to the recommended water consumption levels in your area, which can be helpful to know before committing to a design.
  • Plan water usage zones. Look at your property and plan water usage zones according to light exposure and the site’s natural conditions. For example, though you may want a hillside of flowers, landscaping with more deeply rooted shrubs can discourage soil erosion while simultaneously requiring less day-to-day watering. 
  • Limit the use of turf grass. By strictly limiting your use of turf grass, you’ll most certainly limit water consumption. You don’t have to turn your whole lawn into a rock garden, but just see where you can replace heavily water-dependent vegetation, like grass, with more drought-resistant plants. Also keep in mind that by using native grasses, such as buffalo grass in Texas, you’ll have a lawn with roots adapted to reaching further for preexisting ground moisture. 

The Plant(s)

Just as important as where you plant is what you plant. Fortunately, the use of local knowledge of native plants is on the rise. Once again, the EPA’s WaterSense program is quick and reliable resource when it comes to finding suitable plants for every climate and topographic region in the United States. From Floridian gardens to high desert yards, you’ll find several native plant suggestions for your home turf!

Another method to consider is hydrozoning, or the placement of plants together by like water needs. By arranging plants in this manner and either in or out of direct sunlight, as needed, you’ll wind up with healthy root lengths and a yard that best absorbs and utilizes all the natural water it receives.

The Rest

Congratulations! You’ve landscaped your yard with water consumption in mind. Besides avoiding overwatering, remember these helpful pointers:

  • Regularly spread all-natural mulch in areas where you want the greatest moisture retention.  Keep in mind that mulch will decompose over time, so replace when needed.
  • Give your lawn a rest between mowing. And, when you do cut the lawn, raise mower blades up to allow two to three inches of growth. Longer grass means deeper roots, which, in turn, means a stronger lawn more able to reach topsoil water.
  • Think of installing rain barrels to collect and make use of natural precipitation. Before purchasing anything, check with your local Department of Public Works to see if it sponsors a natural water collection method, and also check with your state, county and municipality to learn about any laws governing such systems.

The EPA’s report on turf grass and water allowances says that in 1965, the average Georgian used 50 gallons of water a day, while by the year 2000, that number had risen to 200 gallons a day. Landscaping with water conservation in mind can help you to keep your water consumption from increasing.

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