Spending time outside is relaxing and rejuvenating. And when you have your own garden, you want to invest in landscaping to complement your home and build a space you love. 

But not every climate is right for all plants and trees. With xeriscaping, though, you can design a unique outdoor space to celebrate the natural climate around you.

What Is Xeriscaping?

Coming from the Greek “xeros”, meaning dry, xeriscape is a type of landscaping using plants needing very little attention from humans. The goal is for you to interfere as infrequently as possible—this means less watering and letting nature do its thing. 

A woman kneels down in a lush green landscape. She is surrounded by tall grasses and bushes, with leafy green trees in the background.
Xeriscaping is about planting vegetation to thrive in its natural environment with little watering or intervention. Still from Skillshare class Gardening 101: A Guide For Growing & Caring For Plants by Geraldine Lavin.

While xeriscape designs will look different for every garden, follow these seven basic principles as you plan your garden:

  1. Design with water in mind
  2. Use low-water-loving and native plants
  3. Focus on improving soil quality
  4. Reduce water wastage areas such as lawns
  5. Build efficient irrigation systems
  6. Add mulch to retain moisture around plants
  7. Don’t forget about maintenance

Where Should You Xeriscape?

In recent years, xeriscape design has become popular in the western US. States such as California and Colorado were some of the first to embrace xeriscaping on a wide scale. Because of climate change, droughts in these areas have become prolonged and more intense—over 94 percent of California was under severe drought conditions during summer 2022.

An image featuring more than a dozen succulents and cacti plants, each in their own small individual pots. Their leaves and rosettes are a variety of green shades.
Plants such as cacti and succulents thrive in drought conditions, thanks to their unique ability to retain water in their leaves. Still from Skillshare class Succulents and Cacti 101: How to best care for your Succulents and Cacti by Carmen Whitehead.

Despite what the name suggests, xeriscaping isn’t only practiced in arid conditions. If you’re based in a rainy area such as the Pacific Northwest, ferns and spruces work well in the wet and mild winters. Native Florida plants like beach sunflowers, lilies and irises all thrive in the Sunshine State.

The idea is to use foliage that does best in the particular climate you’re planting in, regardless of how much rain or sun you get.

Xeriscaping Benefits

Modern xeriscaping is primarily focused on environmental benefits. While these are important, both advanced and beginner gardeners embrace this style of landscaping for other reasons too.

Two side-but-side photos of bright gardens featuring lush green grass and vivid, colorful bushes and flowers.
Choose flowers that grow well in the climate your garden is in. Still from Skillshare class Gardening For Beginners by Mark Shorter.

Save Water and Money with Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping has vast water-saving potential. Drought-tolerant plants can exist with almost no additional irrigation, taking everything they need from the environment. Not only does this cost less, since you won’t be watering as frequently, it’s an ideal tactic for sustainable gardening.

The water savings are why local governments are keen to make the switch. In a study from 2016 to 2019, the City of Fort Collins, CO found residents saved an average of 14 gallons of water for every square foot converted from high water usage to low water usage, through re-landscaping alone. 

Their Xeriscaping Incentive Program provides locals with a rebate for planting low water vegetation. Check with your local authority for similar programs—you could get paid to convert your own yard to a xeriscape design.

Erosion Control

Good soil is essential for maintaining healthy vegetation.
Protecting your soil from erosion should be a top priority when designing a xeriscape garden. Still from Skillshare class Gardening For Beginners by Mark Shorter.

Rain is slightly acidic, with a pH level around 5.6. During any downpour, the mildly acidic water hits your soil and can cause it to move. Throw in strong winds or even more rain and your slope can erode and wash away. The soil has to end up somewhere and, in residential communities, often leads to clogged storm drains throughout your neighborhood.

Plants help protect the soil by providing shelter with their overhang and leaves to catch falling rain. While the soil underneath will still get wet, the plants act as a barrier or filter for the rain to pass through, weakening the rainfall intensity and stopping the soil from moving.

Tree roots also bind the soil under the ground, giving your slope even more protection. Consider adding these, along with decorative rocks, to stabilize any slopes and control drainage. Careful placement will keep water away from your home’s foundation, while working as a natural irrigation system for the rest of your yard.

Support Local Wildlife

Side-by-side photos of bees on soft pink and light purple flowers.
Pollinators such as bees and butterflies thrive in gardens full of native plant species. Still from Skillshare class Gardening For Beginners by Mark Shorter.

When you fill your outdoor spaces with native plants, you’re helping to protect natural wildlife ecosystems. Birds and other animals all rely on these areas as a food source, particularly in urban areas where development has removed their natural prey or the vegetation they live on. 

Butterflies and bees also use native plants for pollination and seed distribution, a vital part of ensuring plant species avoid extinction.

Fewer Pesticides and Fertilizers

Xeriscaping is the ultimate low maintenance landscaping. Using native plants means they’re perfectly adapted to both the climate and natural pests in the area, so you won’t have to use pesticides and fertilizers to keep them alive and growing.

To get your garden going, you can use a small amount of organic fertilizer to kickstart the process. But afterwards, save your money and avoid adding potentially harmful chemicals to your soil. 

Curb Appeal

Setting aside the environmental benefits, xeriscaping has excellent curb appeal. As people drive past your front yard, they’ll notice how well-aligned the landscaping is to your home style and the surrounding environment. 

This is essential if you’re hoping to sell your property, as those first impressions count and can boost your home’s value significantly. But even if you’re planning to stay and enjoy your outside space, you want it to look good. 

Xeriscape Plants

Choosing the right vegetation to make up your garden is key in a xeriscape backyard. Start with trees and shrubs, which are more permanent and take longer to grow, before moving onto flowers and other plants.

Trees

Like the rest of your xeriscaped yard, you’ll want to research native tree options for your location. Evergreens such as pine, acacia, cedar and cypress or deciduous trees such as hawthorn, willow, myrtle and oak are good choices for xeriscaping. Throughout North America, maple, ash, and aspen are also common.

Shrubs

Flowering shrubs are excellent choices for xeriscape front yards, as they add plenty of curb appeal and help to keep water runoff from your driveway away from the front of your house.

Juniper, sandcherry, potentilla, barberry, lavender, honeysuckle and rabbitbrush all bloom with vibrant-colored flowers during the spring and summer months.

Grasses

It’s easy to assume lawns are only there for residential curb appeal, but that’s simply not the case. Well-established grass is essential for soil erosion protection, especially when you’re still building a more extensive xeriscape yard.

A close up oa a lawn featuring multiple types of grass.
Grass is needed to maintain healthy soil and prevent erosion. Still from Skillshare class Gardening For Beginners by Mark Shorter.

Particularly in warm climates, wild grass species such as blue avena, Indian grass, feather reed, and maiden grass can all complement other plants.

Flowers

The options for xeriscape flowers are endless. You can discover how to care for cacti and succulents, making these beloved plans an obvious choice for water-sparse areas. Perennials such as catmint, hyssop, yarrow, poppies, geraniums and calendulas are all drought resistant flowers that require very little attention.

Designing Your Xeriscape Garden

Work with a landscape architect to construct a xeriscaped yard that reflects everything you love about your property and the town you call home. Or try your hand at becoming a landscape designer for yourself, slowly transforming your yard to an homage to the plants, shrubs and trees naturally found throughout your area.

Small Gardens

When you’re landscaping in only a few square feet, your xeriscaping ideas might be limited. But this is where you have to get creative. 

Succulents growing in ceramic and cardboard containers show how easy it is to start your own xeriscape garden.
In gardens with limited space, plant in small pots to make moving your flowers or succulents easier. Still from Skillshare class How to Grow a Succulent Garden from Leaves by Kelly Newberry.

Growing succulents from leaves in small clay or ceramic pots means you can quickly swap out plants or move them around to fit in new garden additions. 

Herbs are a good choice for small gardens as they grow well in pots, rather than in the ground. Thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and basil all thrive in various climates and are ideal if you’re lacking space.

Front and Back Yard Xeriscaping

Living in a mountainous area? Highlight natural rock walls on your property and create a xeriscape garden around them. Rocks are natural irrigators, as water runs off the surface to the plants below. They also protect soil underneath from washing away in heavy rain.

Keep your pollinator plants in your front yard or in the furthest corners in your backyard. You’ll still be helping bees and other insects thrive, while avoiding unwelcome guests around your seating areas.

Xeriscaping in Urban Areas

Bright white and green plants pop up along a sidewalk, while green grass and bushes grow in the background.
Urban homes can have simple and effective xeriscaped designs to match the style of the house. Still from Skillshare class Planting Your Inspiration: Seasonal Container Gardening by Lauren Weber.

Wherever you can, add soil and vegetation to your space. Rethink any pavers you have currently and replace them with designs to allow grass or soil to fit between them. You could even replace existing walkways with stone or gravel.

Mediterranean plants such as lavender grow well in large pots and can be later transferred to beds once you’ve established them. They smell wonderful and don’t need much watering, making them an ideal choice for an urban xeriscape garden.

Put Your Green Thumb to Work

No matter what size space or climate you call your own, xeriscaping is an easy and versatile solution for any budding gardener. Do your research and roll your sleeves up as you create an eco-friendly garden you can enjoy every day.

Written by:

Holly Landis