Artificial grass has become the lawn of choice here in the Bay Area, for lots of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that natural grass lawns are by far the single-worst water wasters in residential yards. There is no excuse any more for watering lawns. So you’re doing right by Mother Nature when you switch to faux grass.
You’re also setting the stage for an entire landscape that is a lower water showstopper.
Let’s be clear. Low water landscaping does not mean no plants. It’s smart to choose drought-tolerant varieties, of course. And you’ll have a multitude of choices. But there are also modern irrigation techniques you can use to directly water specific areas or even individual plants without wasting a drop.
What to plant?
Drought-tolerant trees give your landscape structure and provide cool, leafy shade. Then you can fill in with shrubs and smaller plants that conserve water. Generally speaking, plants with gray or silvery foliage or leaves that are fuzzy or felty-thick are more drought-resistant.
David Salman owns High Country Gardens in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a hybridizer of drought-tolerant plants and a nationally-known expert on water-wise gardening. He recommends combining woody plants, perennials, grasses, culinary herbs, and groundcovers. Use a large rock as a tall element, he suggests, or berm up soil to create varied terrain if your yard is flat.
Succulents are trending right now. You could grow nothing but succulents and still have a garden landscape replete with color and texture. And that’s just the leaves. When succulents bloom, surprise! You’ll be treated to an entirely new range of colors and textures. However, succulents are all on the small side (most are ground covers), so it’s best to combine them with other heights and types of plants.
Ornamental grasses are trending, too. Delicate-looking, slender blades in short, medium and tall heights. Shades of green, variegated or zebra-striped leaves -- many that turn red, bronze, or orangey in the fall. Flower stalks that morph into beautiful seed-heads which remain all winter, providing visual interest in your off-season landscape.
Perennials are a better choice than annuals. They tend to be hardier, and because they can develop deeper root systems, they require less water. Popular low-water perennials include lavender, sage (culinary, ornamental, and Russian), yarrow, and agastache (hyssop). All are fragrant, and most of these come in a variety of colors. But, as we keep noting, there are so many choices you can easily create a gorgeous low-water garden that looks entirely different from everyone else’s.
If you just love certain annuals, plant them in containers with small veggies such as lettuces.
Low water does not mean no water
Even the toughest native plants get thirsty when drought conditions hit. Hot sun and wind dry out plants, too. In your yard, a little extra water keeps all your plants healthy and looking their best. Two easy-to-install options are direct-to-plant irrigation and soaker hoses. Another clever technique for controlling water usage (and stopping wasteful runoff) on sloped ground is by building check dams that create small temporary pools.
Group plants together by water needs. That way you can be most efficient with water and still indulge yourself in some thirstier favorites without losing sight of your low-water garden goal. Ground covers not only look prettier than bare ground, they help the soil retain moisture. Creeping varieties of thyme, for example, are highly drought-resistant and look great year round.
Low water landscaping that lives up to its name relies on choosing plants that require minimal water, along with irrigation that provides needed moisture without waste. Plan for both, and then sit back and wait for the compliments.