As sunny days scorch thirsty yards, xeriscape design can bring relief to dried-out landscapes and tapped-out water bills. Xeriscape (pronounced zeer-i-scape) is landscape design that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation beyond what nature provides, and our virtual exterior designers can show you how this environmentally friendly design can transform your home. Xeriscape uses drought-tolerant plant selections and turf grass alternatives to preserve water and encourage a lush, healthy landscape. If you’re ready to tackle your curb appeal — and your water usage — read on. We’ve gathered 12 xeriscape ideas for a modern low-maintenance look to incorporate into your own outdoor spaces.
If the idea of researching plants, measuring elevations and monitoring sunlight intimidates you — don’t sweat. Hand the task over to the design experts at brick&batten instead. Simply send us a few snapshots of your home along with a list of your goals and preferences. Our virtual design service can put together a customized rendering and shopping list, bringing you closer to a xeriscaped yard without any of the hassle.
#1 // Remember, it’s Xeriscape, Not Zero-Scape!
Simplicity and clean, uncluttered lines are a signature of the modern aesthetic. But embracing xeriscape landscape design doesn’t mean getting rid of your plants. In fact, planting foliage around your home can lend visual interest and draw the eye to architectural features. You can still have a full, lush yard while lessening your water usage. Select plants that are drought-tolerant — meaning they can survive on little water. Go with a variety of plant types that pop against dark charcoal paints and other crisp neutral tones.
#2 // Swap Grass for Gravel
Yards made of grass are always thirsty. According to the USDA, healthy lawns need about 1 inch of water every three to seven days, depending on the temperature. Why not go with a xeriscape idea for a modern and low-maintenance look.
Xeriscape swaps grass for gravel. When you factor in the time and effort it takes to mow and maintain a grassy green lawn, xeriscape starts to sound appealing. In areas that are particularly dry or high-traffic, consider ground cover alternatives like hardscape pavers and gravel. These reduce your watering needs and provide additional environmental benefits by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions from mowing. Rocks retain heat and might dry up moisture in the soil, so keep gravel in shady areas where additional drainage is needed. At brick&batten, our designers are loving the modern low-maintenance look of xeriscape by using gravel. We believe you’ll be seeing more of this in years to come.
#3 // Take Up More Space with Outdoor Living Areas
If neither gravel nor grass suit you, try pulling the inside out by expanding your living space. At brick&batten, we love to liven up a home’s exterior with fire pits and outdoor seating areas. Not only do these spaces expand the livable area of your home, but they also lessen the need for water-thirsty ground cover plants. Patios of concrete and wide stones can tie your home’s aesthetic to the outdoors. Plus, broad awnings can provide a cool shady spot for you while casting heat-relieving shadows upon nearby plants, keeping them from drying out.
#4 // Mix in Some Mulch for Moisture Retention
Mulch is one of the seven core principles of xeriscape design. When used in low-water landscaping, mulch can preserve your soil’s water retention by creating a barrier between your plants’ roots and the sun’s rays. Mulch slows evaporation and keeps plants from overheating. Because it’s biodegradable, it’s an eco-friendly, low-maintenance addition to your yard. The dark, rich look of healthy mulch can also provide a dramatic backdrop to make your home and vibrant landscaping stand out.
#5 // Stick to Native Plants with Low-Water Needs
The principles of xeriscape design were popularized in Denver in the 1970s and ’80s and have been used throughout the western United States, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in an arid climate to make xeriscaping work. The core tenant of xeriscape is using plants that are happiest with the rainfall and water around them. For some that means dry, dusty climates, and for others that means tropical locales with lush, wet greenery. Finding plants that thrive in your local climate means less watering and maintenance for you. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center database can help you identify plants native to your region so you can start planning — and planting!
#6 // Xeriscape is More Than Just Cacti
Although succulents, cacti and desert-friendly plants are all the rage, low-maintenance plants come in all shapes and sizes. Keep in mind, not all drought-tolerant plants are drought-resistant (meaning, you’ll have to break out a hose every once in a while). Drought-tolerant plants can grow with minimal water or rainfall, whereas drought-resistant plants can survive for long periods without water — like cacti. By considering a drought-tolerant landscape, you open yourself up to color and variety. Tall, billowy grasses; fast-growing bamboos; flowering shrubs; and sturdy ginkgo trees can all be drought-tolerant. Check out this list of drought-tolerant plants for even more inspiration.
#7 // Seek Out Shade-Providing Structures
Water preservation organization Water Use It Wisely estimates that shade cast by trees or structures can cool the landscape by as much as 20 degrees. Cool plants are hydrated plants, creating even more water savings. However, you aren’t limited to just the trees in your yard. The virtual design team at brick&batten can show you how to add porticos or covered driveways to your home to not only provide a striking entrance but also cast much needed shade upon your landscape.
#8 // Use Natural Heights to Let Gravity Do the Work
Your yard is its own ecosystem, so treat it like one with thoughtful planning and planting. In nature, plants on hilltops are drier because water flows downhill, and plants in valleys are built to soak up extra runoff and standing water. In your landscaping, work with the elevations and group plants with similar water needs together. Plants who like things dry thrive at higher elevations (or at the top of the stairs), and thirstier plants are much happier toward the bottom of the hill.
#9 // Follow the Sun
Whether cool and shady or bright and sunny, your yard will tell you what thrives in it. Group plants together by their sunlight needs, paying attention to sun and shade patterns throughout the day. This ensures your foliage doesn’t dry out from overexposure or rot due to underexposure. Nothing ruins curb appeal more than droopy landscaping. A good rule of thumb is to place plants with high sunlight needs on the western side of your space — because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, those plants will bask in the rays for most of the day.
#10 // Embrace Hardscape, Pavers, and Pathways
Hardscape such as concrete, brick, stone, gravel or wood are an important element of harmony in landscape. Luckily for those considering xeriscape, hardscape is a water-friendly addition to any yard. Turf grass or even mulch show wear and tear on high-traffic areas like pathways. Evenly spaced pavers, however, lend a modern touch and last a lifetime. Create geometric interest (and encourage natural rainflow between steps) by varying paver size. Soften the look by defining your walkway’s edge with drought-tolerant plants.
#11 // Harness Rainwater and Snowmelt with Creative Watering Solutions
Take your xeriscape design a water-saving step further by incorporating smart watering practices into your plan. Although your drought-tolerant plants will require significantly less water than typical landscaping, you will need to hydrate them occasionally. Having water storage and dispersal solutions saves you even more money and can be a stylish addition to your landscape. Capture rainwater runoff in large rain barrels, which can be hidden behind (or sometimes within!) decorative planters to maintain curb appeal. Or, disperse rainwater runoff naturally with a French drain system — find a tutorial here to get started.
#12 // Plan for Easy Maintenance
Although your new xeriscaped yard needs significantly less upkeep than a traditional grass lawn, keep in mind that you will need to perform minimal routine maintenance to keep plants looking fresh. Incorporate plants in easily accessible areas located off of gathering spaces and walkways. This ensures you’re able to clear out dead foliage and fallen leaves easily so your landscape stays as beautiful as the day you planted it.
If you’re ready to give your outside a face-lift, the design experts at brick&batten can help you incorporate water-friendly xeriscape practices into your new exterior design. Xeriscape is low on water but high on impact, focusing on drought-tolerant plants, shady living areas, alternative ground coverings, and natural water sources to keep your yard looking fresh with minimal effort. With these 12 xeriscape ideas for a modern and low-maintenance look, you’re well on your way.
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