With Drought & HEAT Xeriscapes Should be the Next Yard Fashion

With record setting high heat, drought, and lake levels getting lower and lower it seems that xeriscaping would be all the rage in Central & South Texas but it’s not. Who started the fad of growing these expansive water hogging St. Augustine (“carpet” grass) lawns anyway? I have yet to know the full history behind this ecological disaster.  However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a way out, and it is called xeriscaping.  Not “zero scaping ” as it often is miscalled, implying that xeriscapes can’t be beautiful when they can be colorful & artistic when well designed.  Xeriscaping is landscaping that is designed for drought and water conservation to protect our water supply and environment.  A xeriscaped yard is not only beautiful, but uses less water, requires less maintenance and the native plants and flowers attract & provide habitat for native species of birds, butterflies & other living things. 
Getting Started

One of the first steps in a xeriscape landscape plan is to reduce or eliminate the lawngrass.  Another alternative is to replace the existing lawn with a grass that needs little water to live like zoysia or buffalograss.  I look at many homes and landscapes in the Austin, Texas Metro area.  Right now so many lawns are that sickly, depressing shade of yellowish brown.  If left on their own, lawn grasses may die and weeds fill in.  The next year I see people trying to re-sod with St. Augustine only to start this cycle again.

Learning More about What and How To Plant

Some great ways to learn about xeriscape plants are through the Native Plant Society of Texas, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, and local nurseries.  The “big box” store nurseries still carry invasives, and plants that “look pretty” but are not good for conserving water.  Some cities such as Leander, Texas and Austin, Texas have recommended plant lists.  Leander’s is on the City of Leander website- search for Preferred plant list.doc and the City of Austin has a Grow Green section on their website.  Go to the Plant Guide section.  There is also a Grow Green booklet free of charge at the City or many Austin area nurseries.  The City of Austin also has a Xeriscape Advisory Board to help homeowners design these water-wise gardens.  Texas A & M Horticulture has some great information.  The Williamson County Extension Office at 3151 Inner Loop Rd. in Georgetown, Texas has local demonstration plots at to see xeriscape plants & grasses growing.  There is a map in the Extension Office & plants & trees are labeled & staked.  The Wilco Master Gardeners maintain the xeriscaping gardens.

Professional Advice and Installation

You may choose to hire a professional landscape architect or designer to design a custom plan for your yard.  The Austin Area has many experienced and knowledgeable professionals with many completed projects on the ground (or should I say “in” the ground!  LOL).  Many will design the landscape plan, giving you a drawing of where to plant what and a list of desired specimens but allow you to carry out your plan thus saving you money.  Or, you may choose to have the entire design implemented completely by professionals while you relax in the air conditioning watching through the window!  You avoid heatstroke that way! 

Enjoying Your Xeriscape

Now that your own yard is a Texas Hill Country heat lovin’, water shruggin’ paradise, you may want to take a further step and get your home Certified as a Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Texas Wildscapes or Best of Texas Backyard Habitat programs.  Get a cool glass of fresh- squeezed lemonade, hibiscus tea or other cold beverage and go hand with your butterflies and birds, relishing in the thought that you are having a share in conserving water and our wonderful state.

3 thoughts on “With Drought & HEAT Xeriscapes Should be the Next Yard Fashion

  1. Tour Austin Area Ponds This Weekend July 18th & 19th | Austin Real Estate Blog says:

    […] Wildlife Habitat like mine. I also have minimized my lawn area, grow edibles in the front yard, do xeriscaping, I garden organicly, my bog is a biological filter.  Come by my place Saturday night and […]

  2. Scott McMillen says:

    My wife and I bought a Lennar home in Magnolia Springs subdivision in New Braunfels in July 2010 and moved in during November 2010. Being snowbirds and conscious of the severe drought, I immediately began planning to redo my front yard. I thought it was important to help conserve water and keep it as maintenance free as possible. After turning in landscape plans to the Homeowner’s Association (Associa ProComm) and having them approved, I removed all the turf in the front yard and Xeriscaped it in March of 2011. Shortly afterwards, I received a letter from ProComm stating that the execution of my plans did not conform to the plans. We evidently have a difference of opinion on this. They told me that I must remove my Xeriscaping and replace it with approved turf.
    My landscape water usage has diminished from a high of 43,000 gals/month to an average of around 2,600 gals/mo. When I began a discussion with ProComm through letters, they immediately contacted their lawyer who sent me threatening letters.
    During the past summer, I have discovered that there are actually two city ordinances in New Braunfels requiring new builders (Lennar) to offer Xeriscaping as a landscape option and requiring the builder to install Xeriscaping if they have even one model home. When I talked to Lennar about why they didn’t follow the ordinance, their reply was “we don’t follow it because it is not enforced”. Apparently, Lennar is not at all concerned with the water shortage either. There are many homes in New Braunfels with Xeriscaping. I have also found another recently built home in the Mockingbird Heights subdivision who has done Xeriscaping very similar to mine, and his yard has been approved unconditionally by his HOA. Some of my neighbors have expressed an interest in Xeriscaping to conserve, but after finding out all the problems I have encountered, they decided against it. That would have amounted to more conservation that will not now happen.
    I have written the state Texas State House representative and the State senator for this district and due to their lack of response, it seems that they are not really concerned with water conservation either.
    I have met with the Water Department and they approved my yard for a rebate they offered for replacing turf with Xeriscaping. When I asked them for help, I was told that what I had done was very beneficial, but they didn’t want to get involved.
    My city councilman has been helpful, but it seems that even he does not have the authority to override the decisions made by ProComm. I have a meeting with the Architectural Control Committee of ProComm, but I am sure that I will be forced to reinstall turf grass and go back to wasting water again. This really makes no sense at all.
    It seems that all this talk about water conservation is just that: lip service. It looks like there is no one here in the state who actually wants to do something about conservation. It is either that, or that they are all too afraid of the power possessed by the ProComm. Had I know that I would have this much trouble trying to conserve water, I would probably purchased a house in a development not controlled by ProComm.

  3. I hope you have had some relief by now! I am so happy that Senate Bill 198 as well as House Bill 449 passed allowing homeowners in neighborhoods with HOAs to conserve water by limiting lawn grass and using xeriscaping. I have added more rain gutters and about 355 gallons of rainwater storage at my house. Thanks for all you do Scott to conserve our water in Texas! My family has been in Texas since before it was a Republic and I aim to do as much as I can to conserve water and provide habitat- being a good steward of Texas!

    Lawn grass is simply unnecessary to have a beautiful yard. There are many grasses that provide beauty and habitat but don’t guzzle water. Today I am planting our State Grass, Sideoats grama, that I bought at the Wildflower Center Plant Sale. I also have some other grasses that provide seed for Painted Buntings.

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