What is Xeriscaping? It’s Drought-Friendly Landscaping

xeriscaping garden with succulent and rocks

Are you tired of spending a fortune to maintain a lush green lawn during scorching summer heat? If the answer is yes, you’ve come to the right place. With drought-resistant landscaping, also known as “xeriscaping,” you can create a stunning and resilient garden with reduced water consumption and lower bills. 

What is xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping involves the use of drought-tolerant plants and water-efficient irrigation systems to craft vibrant, low-maintenance landscapes. By incorporating a beautiful mix of native grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees, you can save up to 60% on watering costs.

In this article, we’ll delve into the numerous benefits of xeriscaping and the underlying principles. Additionally, you’ll find landscape design ideas and water conservation tips that you can implement right away.

What Does Xeriscaping Mean?

Xeriscaping, derived from the Greek word “xeros” meaning “dry,” combined with “landscaping,” is an eco-friendly gardening method that focuses on creating beautiful, drought-resilient landscapes that require minimal water usage. 

Often referred to as “smart scaping,” “drought-tolerant landscaping,” or “water-conserving landscaping,” xeriscaping was initially introduced by the Denver Water Department in the early 1980s as a solution to cut down water consumption during droughts.

The core concept of xeriscaping involves replacing grassy lawns with drought-tolerant plants, mulch, rocks, and using water-wise irrigation systems. This approach not only conserves water but also promotes biodiversity and reduces water bills.

What is the Difference Between Xeriscaping and Traditional Lawns?

xeriscaped front yard with dry creek bed
Photo Credit: Remedypic / Canva Pro / License

Vibrant turfgrass lawns have long stood as a symbol of the quintessential American household.

Covering over 128,000 square kilometers, lawns are the most irrigated non-food crop in the U.S. However, with more persistent heat waves and droughts prevalent today, lawns are no longer the best way to use land and money. 

With up to 60% less water usage and increasing in popularity, xeriscaping gardens can be a worthwhile alternative.

Let’s take a closer look at the main differences between the two gardening options:

AspectXeriscapingTraditional Lawns
Plant SelectionConsists of drought-tolerant native plants, reducing water and fertilizer needs.Typically includes imported, non-native grasses demanding more care, water, and fertilizers.
TurfgrassMinimizes turfgrass, replacing it with native ground covers, mulch, or gravel.Often features large areas of thirsty, grassy lawn requiring frequent irrigation.
AestheticsExhibits a more natural and rugged appearance with rocks and indigenous plants.Boasts a lush, soft, and uniform look with a focus on manicured lawns.
ResilienceResilient during heat waves, maintaining colors and vitality.Plants can dry out during droughts, leaving the yard brown and barren.
Water ConsumptionUtilizes up to 60% less water than traditional landscapes, promoting conservation.Traditional lawns collectively consume about 9 billion gallons of water daily.
MaintenanceRequires less maintenance due to the use of hardy, low-maintenance plants.Demands regular mowing, fertilizing, and pesticide application for upkeep.
Environmental ImpactSupports local biodiversity and reduces the need for chemical inputs.Often contributes to water waste and chemical runoff, impacting ecosystems.
Cost-effectivenessCan lead to long-term cost savings by reducing water bills and maintenance costs.Can be more expensive to maintain due to increased water and maintenance needs.
Erosion ControlEffective erosion control through the use of ground covers and mulch.Offers limited erosion control, especially on sloped areas with grass-only lawns.

What Are the Benefits of Xeriscaping?

  • Water Conservation: One of the most significant advantages of xeriscaping is water conservation. By using drought-tolerant plants and efficient irrigation methods, xeriscaping can reduce the amount of water needed to maintain a landscape by up to 60%.
  • Promotion of Biodiversity: Xeriscaping also promotes biodiversity by creating a variety of habitats within a single yard, providing shelter and food for beneficial insects, pollinators, and songbirds. 
  • Low Maintenance: Xeriscaping requires lower maintenance due to the use of native, drought-resistant plants, which require fewer fertilizers and pesticides than imported species.
  • Environmentally Friendly: Xeriscaping also has significant environmental benefits, including reduced exposure to toxic chemicals and prevention of runoff. 
  • Visually Appealing: With its various design styles, xeriscaping can be aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective, saving up to 60% in yard maintenance costs compared to traditional landscaping. 
  • Easy Maintenance: Xeriscaping supports low pest and disease incidence, as drought-tolerant plants are more resilient to such issues.

What Materials Are Used in Xeriscaping?

wheelbarrow and rake sitting beside pile of mulch
Photo Credit: Pixabay

A successful xeriscaping structure uses a few essential components and materials. These are:

Drought-tolerant plants: Herbs, shrubs, trees, wildflowers that need minimal water, either native or from similar climates in regions such as Africa, Asia or the Mediterranean region.

Mulch: Bark chips, grass clippings, dried leaves, straws, gravel and small rocks used to cover the soil.

Rocks and stones: Pea gravel, lava rock, river rock, cobblestone, decomposed granite, pavers and other types of rocks that add structure, color and volume to the landscape.

Drip irrigation system: Tubes, emitters and automation devices to make sure the drip installation is working efficiently.

Rainwater harvesting system: Barrels, swales or cisterns are used in some xeriscaping designs to collect rainfall.

Back in 1981, the Denver Water Department defined 7 principles to guide homeowners to create functional xeriscape gardens with these materials. Let’s see how these simple and practical guidelines look today.

What Are the 7 Principles of Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping and irrigation
Photo Credit: constantgardener / Canva Pro / License

There are seven fundamental principles of xeriscaping as defined by the Denver Water Department. These principles serve as a practical guide for homeowners to create functional xeriscape gardens.

These principles are:

1. Plan and design the garden with functionality and purpose.

2. Test and amend the soil to ensure proper drainage and water absorption.

3. Set up an efficient irrigation system.

4. Use mulch to prevent water evaporation and weed growth.

5. Place the right plants in the right spot based on their water and light requirements.

6. Limit grass surfaces.

7. Ensure regular maintenance of the xeriscape garden.

Xeriscape Design Ideas

low maintenance rock garden with shrubs
Photo Credit: yanikap / Canva Pro / License

Xeriscaping designs change based on soil, climate, and how you want your garden to look. 

Here are some cool ideas:

Gravel and Rock Gardens: Emulate natural rocks by using different sizes, colors, and textures of gravel and rocks. Add cacti, succulents, and other tough plants.

Cactus Gardens: Use various kinds of cacti and succulents to create a desert-like landscape with rocks, gravel, and more sturdy plants.

Rain Gardens: Dig a shallow area in your garden to collect and save rainwater. Plant xeriscape plants around it.

Prairie Gardens: Use colorful native grasses, wildflowers, and other prairie-like plants for a pretty-looking design.

Xeriscape Lawns: Try low-water grasses like buffalograss and fescue for a nice lawn that doesn’t need lots of water.

These are just a few xeriscaping ideas to think about. To succeed, pick the right native plants for your climate.

Types of Xeriscaping Plants

Choose xeriscaping plants that suit the climate and soil of your outdoor space. Mix various species to create a rich ecosystem and have flowers from early spring to late fall.

Here are the main categories to consider:

Drought-Tolerant Grasses and Ground Covers

Creeping thyme is a ground cover that's green with purple flowers.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Ground covers and ornamental grasses can replace traditional thirsty lawn grasses to conserve water. Some popular options are buffalograss, fescue grass, and hardy yellow grass.


Psilostrophe cooperi
Photo Credit: Stan Shebs / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Shrubs provide structure and create eco-friendly habitats for wildlife. Consider drought-resistant species such as sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and manzanita.

Cacti and succulents

Cacti and Succulents
Photo Credit: Rex Williams / Canva Pro / License

Succulents and cacti can survive with minimal water. They are common in gravel and rocky gardens and in cactus gardens. Some beautiful examples are San Pedro Cactus, Red Yucca, and Beavertail Cactus. 

Mediterranean plants

View of Rosemary and lavender
Photo Credit: Bepsimage / Canva Pro / License

Consider olive trees, lavender, and rosemary if aiming for a Mediterranean style. They are lovely additions and bring a charming fragrance to your home and outdoor space.

Only some drought-tolerant plants are suitable for your area. Consult with a horticulturist or a local nursery expert to find the best xeriscaping plants for your garden. They can also help you amend the soil properly. 

Fertilizers and Soil Amendments for Xeriscaping

Healthy soil is the foundation of a successful xeriscape garden. Utilizing the right fertilizers and soil amendments, such as mulch, and organic fertilizers, enhances soil structure and fertility. Rock dust supplements essential nutrients, while gypsum breaks up compacted soil. 

These components work together to ensure proper drainage, improve plant health, and support the water-efficient nature of xeriscaping.

Compost is a natural fertilizer that is rich in nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. Use it to improve soil structure and fertility. You can prepare compost using our DIY composting guide.

Water Conservation Tips for Xeriscaping

By having drought-resistant plants and an efficient irrigation system, conserving water becomes a breeze.

Nevertheless, there are further steps you can take to maintain a green and healthy garden with minimal water usage. 

Consider the following tips and tricks:

Avoid watering on windy days: If you use sprinklers, refrain from turning them on during windy conditions. Wind can disperse water away from the soil, resulting in waste.

Practice deep and infrequent watering: Implementing this method helps plants develop strong, lengthy roots that penetrate deep into the soil, accessing moisture that’s sheltered from the heat. This enhances their drought resistance.

Opt for early morning or late evening watering: By irrigating during these times, when temperatures are cooler, more water will reach the roots instead of evaporating.

Harvest rainwater: Set up barrels, cisterns, or swales to collect rainwater when it falls. Rainwater is often healthier for plants compared to tap water, and it serves as a valuable reserve during extended dry periods.

Adjust irrigation with seasonal changes: Decrease watering when it rains and increase it during dry spells. This approach prevents overwatering, which can lead to plant rot, and ensures your garden remains beautiful and thriving throughout the year.

How Much Does Xeriscaping Cost?

The average xeriscaping project costs between $10,000 to $20,000 with installation. Pricing differs depending on materials used, location, climate, soil, and garden size.

You can work with a landscape contractor near you from scratch to the final touch to make the process faster and simpler. Or hire a designer for up to $200 per hour and do the work yourself.

Xeriscaping Case Studies

Need some inspiration for your xeriscaping garden? Here are two amazing projects that you can visit and/or research online.

1. Las Vegas Springs Preserve

The Springs Preserve is a 180-acre attraction that serves as a model for desert landscaping in the arid climate of Las Vegas. The site features numerous themed gardens with native and drought-tolerant plants, demonstrating the possibilities of xeriscaping in water-scarce regions. 

The project’s success has inspired residents and businesses in Las Vegas to adopt water-efficient landscaping practices, reducing water consumption and promoting environmental sustainability.

2. Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Situated in the country’s capital, the Australian National Botanic Gardens is an excellent example of xeriscaping in an Australian setting. The gardens highlight a diverse collection of native Australian flora, many of which are naturally adapted to drought conditions. 

By showcasing these plants and implementing water-wise irrigation systems, the gardens promote the conservation of water and celebrate the unique beauty of Australia’s plant life.

Legislation like Florida Statute 373.185 and Colorado HB21-1229 have been put in place to prevent Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) from disallowing water-conserving landscaping methods. These laws permit property owners to engage in xeriscaping within HOA-governed communities, even if traditional landscaping is the norm.

However, it’s important to note that HOAs still need to grant approval for the specific xeriscaping design. If you reside in such a community, consider these strategies to enhance your chances of approval:

Develop a Comprehensive Plan: Craft a detailed xeriscaping plan outlining your proposed changes and improvements. This plan should cover various aspects of your project, including plant choices, materials, and layout.

Visual Enhancements: Incorporate visual aids into your proposal, such as images depicting the plants and materials you intend to use. This visual representation can help HOA members better understand your vision.

Inspirational Designs: Include visual examples of designs that have inspired your xeriscaping project. Demonstrating your creative sources can provide context and help convey your ideas effectively.

Gradual Progression: Start your xeriscaping efforts in your backyard. Begin with modest changes, like replacing sections of turfgrass with flower beds. This incremental approach can showcase the benefits of xeriscaping while gradually transforming your landscape.

By following these guidelines, you can increase the likelihood of obtaining HOA approval and successfully embark on your xeriscaping journey within your community.

FAQ About Xeriscaping

How does xeriscaping benefit the environment?

Xeriscaping conserves water and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, promoting a healthier ecosystem. 

By using native plants, xeriscaping also supports local biodiversity and helps maintain natural habitats for wildlife.

Can xeriscaping be applied to any climate?

While xeriscaping is most commonly associated with arid and dry regions, its principles can be adapted to various climates. 

By choosing appropriate drought-tolerant plants and adjusting watering practices, xeriscaping can be effective in both dry and moderate climates.

How do I get started with xeriscaping?

If you’re new to xeriscaping, consider consulting with a professional landscaper experienced in water-wise designs. 

They can assess your site, recommend suitable native plants, and create a personalized xeriscaping plan that fits your preferences and climate.

Does xeriscaping attract pests and wildlife?

Xeriscaping, particularly with native plants, can attract beneficial insects and pollinators, which is essential for a healthy garden ecosystem. 

While some pests might be present, proper plant selection and maintenance can help minimize pest issues.

Is xeriscaping suitable for commercial properties and public spaces?

Absolutely! Xeriscaping can be applied to commercial properties, public parks, and roadside landscapes, offering both water-saving benefits and a visually appealing environment. 

Many cities and businesses are adopting xeriscaping to reduce water usage and maintenance costs.

Are there any government incentives for implementing xeriscaping?

Some regions and municipalities offer incentives, rebates, or tax benefits for property owners who adopt water-saving practices like xeriscaping. 

It’s worth checking with your local authorities or environmental agencies to see if such incentives are available in your area.

When to Hire a Xeriscaping Pro

Xeriscaping offers the perfect solution to create a stunning yard with reduced expenses, no matter where you live. The key lies in selecting the right drought-tolerant plants that suit your soil and climate, complemented by mulch, rocks, and an efficient irrigation system. 

Take charge of this endeavor yourself, or if you prefer, get professional xeriscaping help. LawnStarter connects you to the best landscapers near you

Embrace the beauty and sustainability of xeriscaping and enjoy a water-wise, eco-friendly landscape that enhances the natural charm of your surroundings.

Main Image Credit: Kim Grosz / Canva Pro / License

Ayush Parti

Ayush Parti

Ayush transitioned from studying computer science to mass communication while in college, as he felt it was better suited toward his natural strengths. He has a fondness for the outdoors and loves to go on hikes or travel whenever he gets a chance.