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Davis Journal

Xeriscape doesn’t have to be ‘zero scape’

May 12, 2023 11:47AM ● By Kerry Angelbuer

With record-breaking snowpack flowing rapidly off the mountain filling up reservoirs and natural aquifers across the state, many may think it is the perfect year to forget about water conservation. David Rice, of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, insists that it has never been more important to continue striving to be more water wise in individual landscaping. In a seminar offered at the Centerville Library, Rice cautioned that we will “continue to get dry years along with wetter years and conservation in our desert environment will always be part of meeting the demands of our growing population.”  He showed aerial photos of many of the shrinking lakes nearby highlighting empty lakebeds at Echo reservoir, boat docks far from the water in Pineview and even an old dam in East Canyon that has not been seen since the large dam had been built in front of it several decades ago. 

Currently, Utah has a population of 3.6 million, and if population growth continues at current pace, that number could grow to 6 million by 2060. Meeting the need of nearly double the number of people will involve infrastructure improvements tapping into different water supplies and conservation throughout the state. “Low-water-use doesn’t mean sand dunes, dried up sage brush, an old wagon wheel with a cow skull, or a typical desert scene,” Rice said. “Xeriscape is not ‘Zero Scape.’ Water-wise and xeriscape are used synonymously, but they don’t imply that it can’t be lush and green.” 

Grass even has a place in a yard in central areas providing a soft playable surface that is very resilient. Keep in mind, Rice cautions, that grass takes nearly twice the water to maintain as almost any other kind of landscape so should be limited to usable area. He recommends the “localscape” method of planning the yard which involves specifying areas that fit familial needs such as: outdoor living, playgrounds, a putting green, a trampoline surrounded by untrimmed meadow grass, a playground surrounded by impact-lessening mulch or play sand, a stone chessboard with opposing benches and grass. All these areas are connected by paths and the remaining area becomes plant area covered in shade trees, fruit trees, shrubs, and flowers. He notes that less mowing can be replaced by spending 10 minutes a day in the yard deadheading flowers, pulling some weeds and enjoying the outdoor space. 

Rice divides paths into two types, primary paths that will need to be kept clear in the winter and secondary paths that connect less-used areas. Smooth mortared rock and concrete are best for primary paths, while large flagstones and gravel are attractive options for the rest. Side yards are usually not big enough to justify grass, so he recommends paths in these areas surrounded by mulched plants. Rice showed slides of attractive low-water landscapes, many of which are located in the demonstration gardens at the Weber Basin Offices in Layton. Gardening classes at the site started in April. The gardens are meant to be explored and contain a variety of plants all labeled to make imitation possible. 

When water is scarce, priority for water use goes first to life sustaining drinking water within the house, then agriculture and industrial/manufacturing use and then maintaining stream flow in recreation/wildlife areas. Of lowest priority is maintaining personal landscapes. Utahns love their yards but without careful planning, the state will be back to rationing water. λ