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Davis Journal

Xeriscaping – respond with beauty during an extreme drought

May 09, 2022 09:47AM ● By Kerry Angelbuer

Davis county needed more than normal snowpack to recover from the low water in reservoirs last season. With snowpack well-below average, the current situation has been labeled as extreme drought. To cope with the shortage, irrigation water through the Weber Basin will not be turned on until mid-May. Then they are asking that residents only water with sprinklers once per week – 40 minutes for rotors and 20 for pop-up sprayers. Homeowners can also hand water one day per week established trees and shrubs. The water will also be turned off this year as early as mid-September. This amount of watering may not maintain a green lawn, especially in hilly areas with sandy soil. The grass can survive in a straw-look dormant stage, but if pets or children continue to play on this fragile grass, it can be lost. Those ignoring water restrictions will be hit with higher-use water penalties and escalating citations. 

If grass is still struggling from last year’s high temperatures and watering restrictions, it might be time to consider adding some xeriscape to the ground around buildings and homes. Xeriscape is a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation. It is typically less work for the owner – a little cleanup in the spring may be enough for the whole growing season. Xeriscape in Utah can go beyond a gravel-filled yard ornamented with a couple cactus so popular in southern states. With a little education, xeriscape can be created that may even improve the use and beauty of outdoor spaces. 

Soft, durable grass is very important for children and pets and their active games, but grass is very hungry for water and may not be compatible with current watering restrictions. Analyze the ground and identify grassy areas that may be converted to a low-water alternative. Even small changes like taking the grass out of the drive strip and replacing it with small gravel and boulders can save hundreds of gallons over the course of a watering season. A home in North Salt Lake on Fairway Drive has beautiful areas of perfect grass that is actually artificial turf which requires no water. The turfs available are so realistic, the only way to discern if it is living or not is to give the grass a tug. 

Another possibility is to make part of the outdoor space more of a living space for dining and relaxing with outdoor friendly furniture, porch swings, fire pit or hammock. These spaces have concrete or flat stones fitted together or embedded in fine gravel or grout. A few pots watered with drip-irrigation, or a decorative wall can add some natural beauty to these water-wise spaces. 

Being a high-elevation desert, many beautiful plants can adorn a yard that require little or no water throughout the summer. The yucca plant, for example, looks like strong green swords spearing into the sky both summer and winter. A towering bloom lasts for a few weeks in early summer transforming its austere appearance. Spring bulbs require no more irrigation than melting snow and a few spring showers. Bulbs prefer a dry summer to reclaim the energy in the plant as it goes dormant. Snow drops, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, and iris bloom in succession providing months of early season bloom. Established trees and low-water shrubs can also survive beautifully with a water-wise drip system or infrequent deep watering. The entrance to Deer Hollow Park in North Salt Lake for example features a round-stone xeriscape beautified with bright, yellow, early-blooming forsythia and flowering fruit trees.

Ofa Makaui, of All-Green Landscaping, suggests cobbles for the front yard and concrete surrounded by mulch or cobble in the back. “Try to tie in with what is already there to match the color of the house to the rock or concrete.”  Concrete can have different designs and colors to look like a rock wall or pavers. 

Makati said that supplies for xeriscape are increasing in price and sometimes stock is limited. Doing a whole yard may cost $4,000-$6,000. “If we can do our part in helping with this drought, I think anything would help our environment, whether it’s a small project or a big project.”

Grass and ornamental plants that do not survive the drought, may be replaced by tougher plants. Consider reseeding with a more water-wise grass like Bermuda that may do dormant, but springs to life when water is given. Look for clues on plant labels like heat resistant or drought tolerant. Notice attractive plants that grow in the wild spaces nearby and collect a few seeds or a cutting for propagation. Xeriscape is more than boring rock covering all outdoor spaces, but rather a thoughtful way to mix functionality and water-wise beauty to improve an outdoor space. λ