Drought-Tolerant Landscaping Tips

Drought-tolerant landscaping, also known as xeriscaping, can be colorful and interesting. Get some tips to make the most of it.

Most people know that much of California has been in a serious drought in recent years. Californians have had to make many adjustments to cope with the water-shortages, including changing their way of thinking about lawns and landscaping. My brother in Los Angeles is a prime example of this. We grew up in the Midwest, where green front lawns are standard. When he bought his house in LA several years ago, he initially spent a good chunk of money to lay and maintain sod in his front yard. But years of drought and watering restrictions took their toll, and last year my brother decided it was time to break free from grass and go with drought-tolerant landscaping at last. He’s learned a lot along the way, so here are some tips based on his experiences.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

1. Make a plan and do the prep work. Even xeriscaped yards can end up with weeds and unwanted grasses. In order to lessen those chances, my brother removed about the top four inches of dead sod and soil, replacing it with decomposed granite over a heavy layer of weed cloth. This took time and effort, but it was necessary to ensure future landscaping efforts didn’t get lost among weeds or washed away in a heavy rain. Decomposed granite wouldn’t be the right choice for everyone, but what matters is taking the time to do the research and then prepping your yard properly.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

2. Incorporate different textures and natural curves. In some areas, my brother used edging to carve out curves, filling those areas with rocks like granite chips to add some interest and color that’s easy to maintain. If you’re incorporating new pathways, consider curving them rather than making them straight, as this adds a more natural and attractive look.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

3. Group your plantings and add some natural accents. Drought-tolerant landscaping isn’t the same as planting a vegetable garden. Avoid neat rows and instead create small groups of plants accented with rocks or other accents that appeal to you. Start slowly, adding a few plants here and there, and build as you go. There’s no need to do everything all at once – my brother definitely considers his yard a work in progress.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

4. Choose native plants when possible, and ask your nursery for recommendations. Southern California is technically a desert with occasional rain. The plants that grow there as natives have adapted to these conditions. Whatever your area, find a local nursery or two and get to know the folks who run them. They’ll help you make smart choices and avoid costly mistakes.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

5. Sod isn’t necessarily the enemy! You can have a small grass area for kids or dogs to enjoy. But choose the right kind of sod and maintain just as much as you need, and be prepared to sacrifice it if tougher watering restrictions go into effect. Place the sod where you’ll enjoy it the most – this is the view from my brother’s back doors, with a pergola where they can sit and enjoy the lush green effect if they like.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

6. Container gardening can be xeriscaping-friendly. Create raised beds with targeted irrigation to grow vegetables or an exotic plant or two. This allows you to control the amount of water needed and provide the best possible soil for good growth. For hanging baskets or front porch pots, choose a mix of succulents and other plants that can tolerant weekly watering (or less).

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping

7. Don’t forget wildlife! Drought-tolerant landscaping doesn’t have to be boring, and it definitely doesn’t have to exclude wildlife. Many succulents like aloe draw in hummingbirds and butterflies, and nectar-producing native wildflowers adapted to the climate are easy to grow. Shrubbery provides shelter for nesting birds like the mockingbirds currently raising a family in my brother’s bougainvillea. Add a few drought-friendly host plants for butterflies, and you’ll be surprised at the life your yard can support.

Drought-Tolerant Landscaping 11

8. Contact your county extension office for resources. County extension offices have plenty of free materials available for homeowners, and may even offer free site visits to help you evaluate and plan. They may also know of financial incentives or support for drought-tolerant landscaping (Los Angeles has a “Cash for Grass” program that offers rebates for qualified xeriscape projects to replace sod).

Looking for more drought-tolerant gardening ideas? Click here!

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.