Xeriscaping in Austin, TX: A Beginner’s Guide

Xeriscaping–the name conjures up space-age like images and futuristic landscaping techniques. While the term has gained massive popularity in the last few years, the idea is not a new one. It has been around since 1978. Coined by the Denver Water Department, this landscaping technique refers to landscaping in a way that addresses our limited water resources.

Xeriscaping is most common in desert climates as a substitute for a grass lawn. While Austin, TX isn’t actually desert climate, the extreme heat, watering restrictions and and periodic droughts make xeriscaping a common and viable option. Additionally, with Austin being the weird, slightly liberal hippie town, environmentally friendly choice is just the right thing to do for many.

We all know that lawn mowing in Austin, TX – especially in the summer – can be brutal. Xeriscaping is a great way to create a natural, gorgeous appearance for your Austin, TX lawn without having to invest in expensive, wasteful irrigation equipment or spend hours tending to your landscape. There are plenty of cacti, succulents and other plants native to the Austin area that make for a beautiful lawn without the hassle of grass.

Here are a few tips if you decide to xeriscape your Austin, TX lawn.

1. Plan carefully

Start your xeriscaping project by drawing out a detailed map of your yard. Measure and label the distance between buildings, trees, or other permanent structures. Then, make a sun chart, detailing where the sun hits the yard at different times of the day. Note any shaded areas in particular. Think about your area’s climate, and determine your area’s annual rainfall. You will need to select plants that can withstand the water levels provided naturally in your area.

2. Add some layers

Once you have figured out your climate and conditions, obtain a list of plants that will be appropriate for your region. Focus on native plants, and then figure out how you want to layer your garden. Each layer should surround a focal point, allowing for excellent visibility and water retention, like a tree.

3. Select your plants wisely

The whole point of xeriscaping is to prioritize native growth. If you have any existing native plants, incorporate them in your design. Think about woodlands and open spaces, and study how these areas interact with plants. Avoid invasive exotics–while these plants may be beautiful, they can damage the natural biodiversity of your surrounding community.

The best type of plants will depend on where you live. Plants native to your location are best choice but you can also use universally drought-tolerant plants. Keep in mind that you will need to tend carefully to your plants until they become established, observing to make sure they receive enough water.

For more info on what plants to use, visit the City of Austin’s guide to native and adapted landscape plants.

4. Don’t forget the grass

Converting your lawn to a xeriscape doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to forego grass altogether. Instead, you need to reduce the amount of grass in your yard to only what you need. Bermudagrass is by far the most common grass here in Austin, but you could also choose buffalo grass or zoysia grass, which are both very water conservative and each have their own look.

If you have areas that are steeply sloped or shaded, consider planting a groundcover plant that will be more shade-tolerant. You can also replace a steep slope or areas between sidewalks with drought-hardy plants or low-water usage perennials.

5. Irrigate intelligently

While a xeriscaped lawn will drastically reduce your water consumption, you still will need to provide some irrigation system to keep your plants healthy–they do need some water, after all. Drip irrigation is the most effective way to do this. It can reduce water consumption by up to sixty percent, minimizing the amount of water lost from runoff, evaporation, or wind.

You can also implement techniques to retain water. Consider digging a pond or creating a similar irrigation catchment. Using a rainwater barrel will help you make the best possible use of natural rainfall.

6. Understand and care for the soil

Take a soil sample and have it analyzed. Your local agricultural government office or cooperative extension can analyze your soil for you if you send in a sample. You can also use an at-home soil testing kit; soil tests are often very low in cost. Once you know your soil’s type and pH, you can plan accordingly.

If your soil is mostly clay or sand, you will need to amend it so that it can better retain moisture.  Depending on the native plants you intend to grow, you may need to adjust the pH or consistency. You can do this by adding compost or other organic matter.

7. Remember to mulch

Mulch is an easy way to minimize evaporation, control erosion, and reduce weed growth. Either organic mulches, like wood chips, or inorganic mulches, like stones, can be used, but try to avoid materials like plastic. Mulch should be three to four inches deep.

Gardens that are intensely green require much water to maintain. If you live in a dry climate, xeriscaping might be the right choice for you. You will spend less money on plants that will inevitably die, and you will spend less time pampering non-native plants. With xeriscape gardening, you can enjoy your garden more, without having to worry about whether your fragile plants will survive the hot, dry summers.

author avatar

Written by Wikilawn

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

More Resources