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Water-Wise Plants Best Ways to Save and Drought Tips

By spreading out your watering you can help your plants to establish deeper roots that will help them survive drought periods. Water infrequently (weekly) and deeply when necessary.

Using proper soil preparation and maintenance practices will help to build healthy soil and vigorous, deep-rooted plants. These plants are more resistant to disease, tolerate some insect and drought damage, and will out-compete many weeds.

Water At Night

Make sure you only water when the sun is down to reduce evaporation losses. Many irrigation experts feel the best time to water is between midnight at 6 a.m. because evaporation in kept to a minimum.

Repair All Leaks

Check your automatic irrigation system for leaks. To detect a leak in your irrigation system, you must shut down all water use inside your home and be fairly certain that there is no leakage occurring indoors. Once you have done this, you can use your water meter to see if any water continues to flow into your system.

To do this, follow the instructions detailed in the water meter page.

Drought Response

During a drought your Xeriscape plants should fare better than traditional landscape plants. However, Xeriscape plants are usually “low water” use plants not “no water” use plants, and they will need some water to survive – especially new plants.

In a drought where limited watering is permitted you will probably be able keep all of your Xeriscape plants alive, even if they don’t thrive to their fullest potential. Here is where grouping plants with similar water needs together become invaluable.

By understanding the water needs of your plants, you will be able to ration your water across the Xeriscape, giving more water to the areas that need it. Remember that many turf varieties can survive a period of dormancy, but other plants may not fare as well if they are allowed to dry out completely.

Severe Drought Response

In a severe drought where outdoor watering is severely restricted or even eliminated, you must prioritize your landscape and select the plants that will receive water and those that won’t. Divide your landscape into three categories:

  1. High value/must save;
  2. Moderate value/try to save;
  3. Low value/save if possible.

High value plants usually include valuable trees and shrubs that have taken years to establish that will die without water. Moderate value plants might include certain perennials, newer shrubs that can be replaced, and drought tolerant Xeriscape type plants that will require little water anyway.

Low value plants usually includes turf grass (which can often bounce back successfully from a complete dry out) and annuals.

The old saying is still true, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. If there is a drought forecast for your area – plant more drought resistant plants.

Tap into Graywater Irrigation Water Sources

In a severe drought it’s time for drastic measures. It’s time to get creative. The more water you can capture from your faucets, showers, bathtub, and clothes washer the more plants you can probably help survive the drought. You don’t need to have an elaborate graywater collection and treatment system (although you might consider this option).

Place basins in your kitchen and bathroom sinks to capture water that can then be put on plants outside. If you take a bath, don’t drain the water! Use buckets to haul the bath water outside for your thirsty plants. You can also keep a bucket in the shower with you to capture water.

Capturing and reusing the clothes washer water may be more difficult, but it is certainly possible to do. If you do this, be sure to use laundry detergent that won’t harm your plants.

Place rain barrels at the bottom of your roof downspouts. If any rain does fall you’ll be able to use the water more effectively on the plants that really need it.

Ration Water Across Your Landscape

Use your ration of hose water to water your high value plants and trees first. If nothing else, you want to make it through the drought with those plants alive. If there is sufficient water, move on to the moderate value plants, etc. If you do not have further water from the hose, use your graywater on the moderate value plants and then finally the low value plants.

Keep your moderate and low value plants on a starvation diet. Contact local hortaculturalists and plant experts to determine the minimum amount of water required to keep your plants alive. Some plants can survive (not flourish, but survive) on a small amount of water delivered once per week.

Water-Wise Plants Water Use

The amount of water used by your Xeriscape will depend upon the size of your landscape, the plants you select, your watering habits, the local climate, soil, wind, and any number of additional factors.

While it is impossible to predict the impacts of converting to Xeriscape for the individual, there are a number of research studies that have shown that substantial water savings that can be achieved by converting turf grass to Xeriscape.

A five year study of homes that converted turf to Xeriscape in Las Vegas, Nevada found a 33 percent reduction in average monthly water use and a 39 percent reduction in average summer monthly water use resulting from the Xeriscapes.

This study also found that conversion to Xeriscape reduced annual maintenance costs by one third on top of the water savings.

Keep in mind that Xeriscape, like all landscapes, takes time to establish. During the first few years, new plants often require more water than do mature plants with established and deep root systems. This is why it is important to evaluate the water use of Xeriscapes over a long period of time and not just during the first or second year after installation.

Water-Wise Plants Water Savings

Replacing turf grass with Xeriscape by itself creates a tremendous opportunity for saving water. However, once you have created a Xeriscape there are things you can do to maximize water efficiency.

The number one water efficiency strategy is to avoid over-watering your Xeriscape. Over-watering is most prevalent in the cooler fall months when summer irrigation schedules have not been revised to meet the current weather conditions. Over-irrigation causes three basic problems.

  • Over-irrigation pushes water beyond the root zone and is wasted. This occurs most notably in the case of turf grass, but can also occur on Xeriscape.
  • Over-irrigation causes excessive run-off, which contributes to non-point source environmental pollution.
  • Over-irrigation, in general, degrades plant health.

There are a number of ways to reduce irrigation and all of these recommendations are explored in great detail in this web site. Reducing water use on Xeriscapes (and standard landscapes) depends on a number of factors including the type of plants, the soil, landscaping practices, climate, irrigation system efficiency, etc. It can all be a bit overwhelming. Many water utilities offer free landscape audits.

An audit is a great opportunity to meet with a local expert and discuss ways to improve efficiency on your specific landscape. Contact your utility for information on these programs.

Ways to Save Water on Your Xeriscape

  • Group plants with similar water demands together. This makes it easier to apply the proper amount of water to a larger percentage of your landscape.
  • Improve the quality of your soil through proper fertilization and aeration practices
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch around your plants to reduce evaporation. It looks great too!
  • Improve your irrigation efficiency. A drip system is often the best option for applying water to Xeriscape.
  • Upgrade your sprinkler clock
  • Use hose timers for manual irrigation
  • Install a rain shutoff device on your automatic sprinkler system
  • Harvest rainwater

Improving irrigation efficiency is a win-win situation all around. You save money on your water bill and your landscape gets the water it needs without waste. What could be better?

Water-Wise Plants Benefits and Costs

Benefits of Xeriscape

The idea of Xeriscape is to create a beautiful, functional landscape that uses less water than traditional landscapes. Rather than a specific “look” or a limited group of plants, Xeriscape is a combination of seven basic landscaping principles. A Xeriscape in Arizona will likely look very different from a Xeriscape in Florida.

The actual benefits of Xeriscaping your yard will vary depending on the location, climate, soil, etc. and will depend heavily on the landscape replaced by the Xeriscape. A list of potential Xeriscape benefits includes:

  • Reduced water use
  • Reduced fertilizer use
  • Reduced pesticide use
  • Lower maintenance costs
  • Reduced maintenance effort
  • Reduced runoff
  • Topsoil preservation
  • Improved drought tolerance
  • A unique and beautiful landscape

Costs of Xeriscape

Creating a Xeriscape does cost money, but so does creating a standard landscape. As with any landscaping project, the cost of installing a Xeriscape depends on a number of factors including the size of the landscape, plants, labor, required soil preparation, irrigation system installation or modifications, etc.

When weighing the installation of Xeriscape you must consider the long term benefits and costs side by side with those of traditional landscaping. Xeriscape can be more expensive to install on a square foot basis, but these costs can be recouped over time through reduced water use and maintenance costs.

Future Trends

In the future, expect to see more and more Xeriscapes. Xeriscape is rapidly gaining acceptance across the country as an attractive and sensible alternative to acres and acres of sod. There are still barriers to widespread acceptance of Xeriscape including neighborhood protective covenants that mandate turf, misunderstandings about Xeriscape, and landscape prejudice.

Over the past 10 years Xeriscape has made great strides in acceptance and popularity. More books on Xeriscape are being published and the principals that form the foundation of Xeriscape are being applied in different climate zones using different plants.

In the future we hope to see Xeriscapes cropping up in unexpected places like median strips, shopping malls, office buildings, and commercial establishments. The potential for expansion and spread of Xeriscape is tremendous.

Natural Landscaping Movement

Some folks don’t think the concepts of Xeriscape go far enough. The natural landscaping movement incorporates design and management concepts that rely on native plants and minimal, if any, irrigation other than rainwater.

Natural landscaping aims to preserve and reintroduce indigenous plants and virtually eliminate the need for supplemental watering after the plants are established. Stay tuned, this could be the next BIG THING.


As it has gained in popularity, Xeriscape has been the subject of a substantial amount of research over the past 10 years. The crucial questions about Xeriscape revolve around costs, water savings, required maintenance, environmental impact, etc. As more utilities try to encourage customers to convert areas of turf to low-water-use plant materials expect to see additional research conducted.

Click here to search for articles and publications about Xeriscape research and water conservation research in general.

William Lowe
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