The answer to water-bill sticker shock
Meet the cheaper — and sleeker — lawn, where the grass doesn’t always grow. In 'xeriscaping' design, it doesn’t have to.
The perfect lawn has met its match. Homeowners, in the ever-expanding quest to save money — and water — are trading in clipped hedges and putting-green turf for landscaping that is much closer to what might have grown there in the first place.
Denise McConnell got tired of the lawn that surrounded her Las Vegas home. The grass needed watering almost every day, mowing every week and a seasonal schedule of fertilizer and weed-control applications. To top it off, it looked dull.
“It was pretty nondescript,” says McConnell, 62. “And my water bill was averaging about $100 a month.”
Inspired by the gardens she saw on a trip to Italy’s Tuscan countryside, McConnell worked hard and gradually transformed her yard into an oasis of heat-tolerant and water-efficient plants. Today, she is surrounded by beds of flowering perennials, herbs and fragrant vines. Her garden offers maximum privacy, and her monthly water bill is cut in half, to about $50. (Bing: How to save on your water bill)
Garden-design strategies that encourage minimal watering, called “xeriscaping” — based on the Greek word for “dry” — first emerged in the West, where water resources are thin. Employees of Denver’s water department are widely believed to have coined the term in the early 1980s. Now it is spreading in other regions among conservation-minded homeowners who want to grow beautiful gardens.
Many xeric principles are common sense: Choose native plants rather than exotics, which sometimes need extra hosing. Group plants according to water need to avoid unnecessary drenching. And use mulch — such as pine shavings or gravel — to minimize water evaporation and to keep weeds at bay.
Jenny Rose Carey took a trip to the south of France several years ago and noticed the plentiful lavender growing in poor, dry soil on the roadsides. It dawned on her that adding nutrient-rich compost to her garden beds wasn’t necessarily helping the plants. In fact, she suspected she might have success with some of them if they grew in leaner conditions.
Later that year, Carey began work on what she calls her “dry garden” on her four acres in Ambler, Pa.
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Now, soil around a spiraling path of stone elevates flower beds to encourage drainage, which is critical in xeric garden design because it keeps roots of dry-loving plants from sitting in water. River gravel serves as mulch and wicks dampness away from the crown of plants.
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Plantings are in drifts of color: A block of orange California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) precedes yellow-flowering ice plants (Delosperma nubigenum), which come before a drift of rose campions (Lychnis coronaria).
“I wanted it to look more like a cottage garden than feel like Arizona,” Carey says. With rainfall scarce in her area, she says her garden is “rather neglected” — and looking its best.
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Municipalities and water utilities want people to go xeric, offering “cash-for-grass” incentives to homeowners who replace lawns with gardens that use little water.
This summer, Austin, Texas, offered a “landscape conversion incentive” that pays homeowners $20 to $30 per each 100 square feet of garden that is converted using plants from an approved list.
Peoria, Ariz., expanded its xeriscape conversion program in 2009, offering homeowners and businesses as much as $715, up from $550, to get rid of lawns.
Water customers in Cary, N.C., may be eligible for $500 if they replace at least 1,000 square feet of turf with a more heat-tolerant variety of grass or a “natural area,” which might include a patio or a garden filled with drought-tolerant plants.
Utilities find that paying people to alter landscaping is “cost effective over the long run,” says Doug Bennett, conservation manager with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which pays an average of $1,300 per homeowner for a xeriscape conversion. That often proves less expensive than finding more resources, whether by purchasing water rights or building pipelines, he says.
I love my big trees - but they are making keeping a nice lawn very difficult. Ironically, if I didn't have the trees, I would install synthetic turf. There are some very pretty ones available. They look like real grass - no watering no mowing no fertilizer no pesticide no weedkiller. If you don't have trees, you can use a leafblower or a hose to clean them.
But with the trees, I've heard you have to use a vacuum for the lawn.
Does anyone have any knowledge about that?
I have been wanting to xeriscape most of my rural Georgia red clay and weed "yard" instead of planting grass. Over time I also plan to put sheep on the part that will keep grass. We own a good deal of acreage in a gated lot. We are lucky. My concern is that red clay may not support a variety of plants to xeriscape with. I think it is troubling that collecting water on your property is illegal. I also find it deplorable that people have so much control over what a person does with land they bought and paid for. Especially if the issue is whether or not one can plant an alternative to grass that is more suited to the natural flora and fauna found in that area in order to curb reliance on water. It would also eliminate the need for gas and oil for the mower. We live in a world with skewed values.
Artificial turf is designed to mimic the real thing. Some models have yellowing and browning strands woven with the green to give it a more realistic appearance. The Hansens’ model — there are several to choose from — looks damp as it glistens in the sun.
Ose said the grass is permeable, meaning water can pass through it, and odorless. Dogs and cats can even do what dogs and cats will do on it without creating stains. You just clean up the mess with a paper towel.
Rooftop gardens are being proposed for the top of some of London’s biggest buildings. By installing them on the rooftops of places like universities and town halls, it is hoped that endangered species of birds and bugs will be saved.
The Living Roofs for Wildlife project will create seven “living roofs” which will recreate the natural habitats of some of the species and include wildflower meadows, sandy areas and beach.