How to Conserve Water While Still Keeping a Beautiful Garden

Planning a Water-friendly Garden

A water-friendly Xeriscape in Florida.
A water-friendly Xeriscape in Florida.
Peter Essick/Getty Images

­Water-friendly gardens don't happen without a bit foresight and planning. Sure, you can leave your yard as is and implement more efficient watering practices, but to really make an impact, you may have to face the winds of change. First and foremost, consider losing the lawn. As tidy as turfgrass lawns appear, they're environmental nightmares. They demand as much as 90 percent m­ore watering than native plant gardens, need harsh fertilizers and pesticides that pollute groundwater and provide no additional food or habitat for birds and animals.

You don't have to dig up your entire lawn, but you can downsize it. Take into account the purpose of the grassy areas. Do they remain relatively untouched, or are they places for entertaining and exercise? If you never step on your grass except to mow, you might not miss it. In that case, replace turfgrass with native plants that require far fewer resources to thrive. Converting a 1,000-square foot (92.9-square meter) lawn into a native plant garden can save 24,000 gallons (90,849 liters) of water per year [source: Rubin]. These types of plants (including trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers) are indigenous to where you live and can naturally withstand climate extremes and rainfall.

Aesthetically, planting varieties of native plants closely together leaves less room for weeds and creates a vibrant display of colors and textures. The money that you invest into altering your lawn into a native garden will lower your upkeep expenses in the long run as well.

Integrating native plants into landscapes is a cornerstone of Xeriscaping. As described in How Xeriscaping Works, this type of landscaping strategically arranges drought-resistant and native plants to maximize water uptake. One of the methods involved is called hydrozoning. When hydrozoning plants, you cluster moisture-needy plants near the watering source. You then place the xeric, or water-hardy, plants on the outskirts of the bed to capture any runoff [source: Torpey]. Xeric plants can grow with less water thanks to their narrow leaves that reduce transpiration, or the release of water vapor. Their fleshy stems also draw moisture from soil more efficiently [source: USDA]. Nevada, a particularly drought-plagued state, has incentivized Xeriscaping because of its water sipping benefits. The Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas pays residents $1.50 for every square foot of turf grass replaced with Xeriscape [source: Esswein].

Once your plants are in the ground, add a thick layer of mulch on top. Mulch refers to any insulating material you put on the soil to protect and nourish your plants and preserve soil integrity; for example, it could be wood chips, compost, or rocks. When trying to conserve water in your garden, mulch is one of your best friends. It reduces evaporation, holds water in place to prevent runoff and lowers the soil temperature for better root absorption [source: Lamp'l.

Now, it's time to water.