By Lauren Dunec Hoang, Houzz
There are easy ways to conserve water in the landscape, such as changing from spray to drip irrigation and avoiding watering around midday. Let’s take a look at five inspiring Houzz landscapes that go a step further in curbing water use, leading to lower water bills and lush, low-water garden beds.
Theodore Payne Foundation, original photo on Houzz
1. Native-Plant Garden in Pasadena, California
Idea to steal: Grow plant species native to your region.
A dry stream bed curves around the front yard of this Spanish-style ranch home in Southern California, edged with chunky boulders and softened by tufts of grasses and low-growing shrubs. The plant palette is made up almost entirely of species native to California, which have evolved to thrive in the wet-winter, dry-summer climate. In garden beds they need little supplemental water to survive — although a bit of irrigation will make them look lusher.
Replacing water-hungry lawns and ornamental beds with landscaping made up of plants native to your region can be a great way to dramatically reduce your garden’s water use. Plus, many native plants also help support local birds, bees, butterflies and other native creatures with pollen, nectar, seeds and fruit. Native plants have the added benefit of requiring little in the way of fertilizing, pruning or treating for disease that many non-native garden plants need to thrive.
What’s not to like? Cut down your water use, decrease your maintenance and support wildlife in one fell swoop.
Near the front door of the Pasadena garden, a multitrunked native western redbud (Cercis occidentalis, USDA zones 5 to 9) grows above pink-blooming coral bells (Heuchera sp.) and native manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), forming an attractive entryway focal point. West Coast native Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium, zones 5 to 9) lines the side of the home as a foundation plant. All plants pictured require little water and are drought-tolerant.
Root Design Company.com, original photo on Houzz
2. Mediterranean-Inspired Yard in Austin, Texas
Idea to steal: Save water in a cistern.
In the backyard of a hillside estate in Texas, the landscape architect engineered a simple but highly effective way to store and use water from roof runoff. A lofted steel water channel set at a slight slope transports water from the roof gutters to a large cistern. The lofted channels double as an attractive backyard feature.
Capturing runoff water that would otherwise be wasted and channeling it to beds is a great way to help reduce your landscape water use. Depending on how much rain your region receives, you may be able to save enough water to irrigate landscaped beds, a raised-bed kitchen garden or a container garden.
The key to managing runoff successfully is knowing your region’s rainfall patterns. For example, arid regions like Austin often have periods of drought followed by heavy rains. One would need a large enough cistern to hold water from the rainy season to use in the dry season.
Conversely, for climates like those on much of the East Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, which receive regular rainfall year-round, you could use a smaller rain barrel to store water for short periods between showers and redirect excess water into a rain garden.
Plan-it Earth Design, original photo on Houzz
3. Rain Garden in Portland, Oregon
Idea to steal: Encourage rainwater to drain on-site.
This lush front yard planting of billowing ornamental grasses, shrubs and Mediterranean herbs offers more than what meets the eye. Concealed by the verdant foliage, a sunken area lined with gravel in the center of the bed functions as a catchment for rainwater runoff from the home’s roof.
In climates like Portland’s that have some rainfall year-round, a rain garden can make a major difference in cutting down on landscape irrigation needs. A rain garden is essentially a sunken area designed to catch rainwater runoff from the roof, driveway, walkway or other impervious areas and allow it to slowly percolate into the soil. In this front yard rain garden, water from the downspout flows away from the house and into a gravel-lined basin, where it is filtered as it soaks into the ground.
Plan-it Earth Design, original photo on Houzz
Here, we see the same rain garden after three years, filled in with plants. Water-loving plants like rushes and iris thrive planted close to the catchment, while most trees and shrubs grow best planted on the raised sides, where their roots benefit from the increased moisture without getting too soggy.
In drier climates, rain gardens can still make a difference in saving water. Catching water after a downpour and allowing it to slowly sink into beds can help water mature trees and shrubs deeply, making them better equipped to weather a period of drought.
June Scott Design, original photo on Houzz
4. Low-Water Plantings Replace Front Lawn in Manhattan Beach, California
Idea to steal: Lose the traditional lawn.
Losing the traditional water-guzzling lawn can make a big difference in reducing overall landscape water use. This Southern California front yard proves that swapping the lawn for low-water plantings not only conserves water, but also provides an opportunity to create a much more interesting garden. For homeowners Julie McMahon and Greg Fontana, replacing the front lawn with drought-tolerant plants significantly cut down landscape water use.
Before Photo, original photo on Houzz
“Depending on the month, it can be less than half of our original water bill,” McMahon says. An area of the yard that was once covered in crabgrass, shown here before plants were added, now has a colorful mix of drought-tolerant succulents, ornamental grasses and shrubs, making the home stand out on the block.
Two types of blue chalk sticks (Senecio cylindricus, zones 10 to 11, and S. mandraliscae, zones 9 to 12), deep purple tree aeonium (Aeonium arboreum, zones 9 to 10), foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’, zones 9 to 11) and a froth of euphorbia flowers add interest and variety to the low-water front yard.
Huettl Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz
5. Eichler Front Yard in Walnut Creek, California
Idea to steal: Mulch garden beds.
This minimalist low-water garden outside an Eichler home in Northern California has a finished, contemporary look. You may notice that despite gaps left between the plants, no soil is exposed. Bark mulch covers the soil between the tufts of grass in the outer curved bed, while a mix of pebbles covers the soil beneath the olive tree and in the bed by the sidewalk.
Mulching beds is one of the easiest ways to save water and give garden beds that finished look. Covering the soil with 2 to 3 inches of mulch cuts down on water loss through evaporation and can keep soil in full-sun beds from getting entirely dried out.
There are many types of mulch — from organic straw and bark to inorganic pebbles and gravel — that can be used to complement any style of garden. In addition to covering landscaped beds, mulch can help decrease the need for watering garden areas that often need frequent irrigation, such as container gardens and raised beds.
In the interior courtyard, bark mulch helps conserve water in a bed planted with clumps of ornamental grasses and rushes, yellow-flowering kangaroo paw (Anigozanthos sp.) and bird of paradise (Strelitzia sp.).