Water is arguably the most precious substance on earth, as it is necessary for life itself, to exist. Increased world population--with the subsequent increase in demand for this valued resource--makes conservation more important now than it has ever been in the history of humankind. But there are other reasons to turn to xeriscaping in your yard—not only are dry landscapes nearly maintenance free, but they can be extremely varied and beautiful as well.
Dig up your water hungry lawn with a garden fork to lift and remove lawn grasses without removing top soil (shake excess dirt from roots). Alternatively, cover the lawn with black plastic for several weeks to kill grasses and weeds.
Improve and condition soil with compost. Use leaves, vegetable scraps, small twigs, and grass clippings to build and maintain a compost pile. Use on new beds prior to planting, or replenish existing beds by top dressing regularly whenever soil appears compacted. The right amount of compost can help dry soils retain water or improve drainage for very wet soils.
Replace conventional lawns with sun-loving native grasses. Mow natives less often--tall grass keeps the ground shaded and cooler, reducing moisture loss. Use grasses like big bluestem and gamma grass for spectacular displays where taller specimens are wanted, while little bluestem, sideoats grama,or prairie dropseed can provide drought-tolerant low cover.
Establish and encourage other native plants in your landscape. This is particularly important if you live in an arid climate, because native plants are adapted to fend for themselves in dry conditions, but any landscape may be successfully xeriscaped. Choose plants adapted to hot south- or west-facing slopes such as those found on prairies and glades—blackeyed susan, butterfly weed, liatris, prickly pear cactus, or purple prairie clover--as those most naturally tolerant of heat and dry conditions.
Use mulches everywhere to cool and retain soil moisture and block weeds that may compete with intended plantings. Apply deep leaf or bark mulches and replenish as they rot and compact (yearly is good) under trees and shrubs. Use loose, light colored mulch like straw, dry grass or sawdust to reflect heat (fluff or stir occasionally to avoid matting which blocks air and nutrients to soil). In areas of high traffic, stones and gravel will help retain moisture and provide shade for soil.
Conserve water by depending upon natural rainfall as much as possible. Water only when necessary and use water from rain barrels or nearby ponds and streams if possible. Install drip irrigation or use soaker hoses to provide a slow trickle of water directly to the roots of plants instead of using wasteful water sprinklers that lose much of their water to evaporation or runoff.
Be vigilant in maintaining the landscape by replacing mulches as they deteriorate, repairing leaky hoses and controlling weeds that may outcompete your plantings.