Every time I hear the word xeriscape I get uncomfortable. It sounds like some nasty kind of torture in a post-apocalyptic film. But really it just means creating a yard that doesn't need a lot of watering.
The average American household uses 320 gallons of water a day and about thirty percent of that is used outdoors.
With the current drought situation in California and water rates on the rise, we decided it was our moral and financial duty to remove the grass and xeriscape the front yard (we let the grass in the backyard go brown in the summer).
But it costs a lot of money to redo a yard, and it could be years before you recoup those costs on your water bill--unless you know some tricks to save money on the redo. Here's how to save hundreds of bucks on your yard.
Tips for xeriscaping your front yard
1. Check your local department of water and power for yard rebate programs.
Your city might help pay for you to xeriscape your yard.
2. It may be cheaper if you DON'T do it all yourself.
Contractors or lawn services can get discounts on rentals and supplies, they have trucks that can haul a (literal) ton of rocks, they have people who can help get it done faster, and they'll (presumably) do it right the first time (have you ever tried to install a drip system?) and with a guarantee of their work.
Get quotes from at least three people. Have them each give you two quotes; one quote for how much they would charge to do all of the work and one quote for how much they would charge just for the really hard stuff like removing the grass, tilling and putting in the drip system, building retaining walls, etc.
3. Compare prices at local building supply stores and stone yards to prices at big box stores.
Stores like Home Depot and Lowes have good return policies (a must) and are convenient, but they don't always have the best prices.
4. Shop local nurseries (with return policies) where lawn services shop.
Local nurseries have better and bigger selections of plants.
Fancy nurseries may have prices on par with big box stores but "on the side of the road under electric lines" nurseries (the ones that are frequented by people in the lawn industry) have plants at half the cost.
5. Buy small and be patient.
An "instant" yard costs a lot more money. Younger plants and trees cost less than mature plants. Seeds cost even less.
You can seed grass for a quarter of the cost of turf (though it may require more watering at first). Same for vegetables and fruits, you can get a bag of seeds for the cost of one plant.
6. Don't pay for non-plant ground cover.
Check locally for free rocks, soil, wood chips and mulch. Some cities or businesses offer it for free (especially wood chips), or check Craigslist or local businesses like tree trimmers.
We had a giant truckload of beautiful wood chips delivered for free by a local business. We also gave away hundreds of pounds of rocks on Craigslist and they went like hotcakes. One woman told us she'd already paid about $500 for an equivalent amount of bagged rocks at Home Depot.
7. Buy sandin bulk and not in bags.
We needed sand for a flagstone path and our yard guy bought an entire truckload from a local building material store for fifty dollars. The equivalent amount bought in bags from Home Depot would have cost more than twice as much and produced a lot more plastic waste.
8. Use concrete blocks (cinder blocks) for retaining walls.
Concrete blocks are under a buck a piece compared to $1.50 or more for a smaller sandstone block at Home Depot. They can be stuccoed, painted and capped or used for succulent gardens.
The downside is that they do require some building skills depending on your project.
We (and by "we" I mean the contractor we paid to do it) built a large, rounded concrete block planter that required trenching, rebar, and a large saw to cut the blocks to fit in the corners. We (and by "we" I mean my husband and I) would never have wanted (i.e. been able to) to take on that project ourselves.
Here are some very cool ideas for DIY concrete block gardens.
9. Drip systems use significantly less water than sprinkler systems.
And most can be can linked to your current timer (if you already have sprinklers) or attached to your outdoor spigot.
10. Redo your yard in the spring.
If you'd like to redo your yard, do it now. It will take a little more watering until the plants are established, but if you wait until summer, it'll take even more. Plus, you might pay more for labor in the summer. It's hard to work fast in 110-degree heat.
11. Don't be afraid! Your yard can still be colorful and beautiful.
Xeriscaping does not have to mean desert landscaping. Sedum is a gorgeous ground cover plant that is hardy and low maintenance. There are plenty of interesting native plants. And succulents are not your mama's cacti.
You can save the Earth and your wallet and still have a lovely yard and personality.