In California, as in much of the southwestern United States, people are designing their home landscapes to conserve water and minimize maintenance. This trend toward water conservation has allowed homeowners to think beyond populating their landscape with exotic ornamental plants that require a tremendous amount of water and care to landscapes filled with hearty native plants. These new landscapes minimize lawn space and focus on landscapes appropriate to the climate, drought conditions and natural flora of the area.
The term xeriscape has been in existence since 1981. Originally, xeriscaping primarily focused on conserving water in landscapes. Water conservation is particularly important in California where long summers of drought, expensive water costs and watering restrictions all limit water usage. Xeriscaping, also called zero-scaping, begins with planning and designing a landscape that will use minimal water and require little maintenance. The design considers such elements as how to minimize turf (lawn) areas, how to prepare the soil, plant selection and watering methods. This method of planning a landscape focuses on native perennial plants, which require less water, are typically drought tolerant and attract native wildlife.
Maintaining a lush green lawn requires a large amounts of water in areas where summer temperatures are high and drought is common. California homeowners who want to lower their water bills and contribute to water conservation efforts can reduce or eliminate their lawns altogether. If you prefer to maintain an area of lawn, then find out exactly how much space you actually need and will use on a regular basis. Many homeowners manage lawns much larger than are necessary, wasting not only water, but gas to mow and fertilizer to feed as well. When possible, shrink the size of your lawn.
California stretches 780 miles north to south and 350 miles west to east. Within this vast amount of land space are several diverse ecosystems---from deserts to coastal areas to dense forests. Select plants for your landscape that are not only native to the state but are also native to your ecosystem. In the desert landscapes of Southern California, desert poppies and asters will add color to your garden. In coastal and northeastern areas of the state, select ferns, evergreen huckleberries, azaleas, wild currants and rhododendrons.
Professionally installed sprinkler systems have several advantages. Once they are installed, they can be set on a timer so that you do not have to worry about forgetting to turn water off or on. They are more efficient than overhead watering systems, which lose water to misting and evaporation before it ever reaches your lawn. Sprinkler systems work best in larger landscapes. If you have minimized your lawn space and installed native plants as your primary landscape features, you might consider capturing water in a rain barrel. Rain barrels can be purchased for as little as $100 and typically come with irrigation piping.
Outdoor Living Space
If shrinking the size of your lawn and ripping out all your water-dependent nonnative plants causes to you imagine a bare and colorless landscape, consider adding an outdoor living space. Landscaping includes designing areas where family and friends can gather or where you can relax and read a book. Many landscapes now include a large patio (which minimizes lawn space), awning or other decorative shade structure, seating, and a barbecue or outdoor stove. These outdoor living areas can be brightened with colorful artwork. You can also decorate a patio area with colorful containers of flowers, such as lavenders and grasses.