A xeriscape by any other name is still resilient

A WaterSaver landscape can withstand drought, flooding, and freezing temperatures — and still bounce back beautifully with little effort from you.

Over the summer, we received many inquiries about zeroscapes, or more accurately, xeriscapes. Queries varied from what they are and how they work to why they’re necessary.

While there were a few references to rock and gravel in the original seven principles of xeriscape by Denver Water in 1981, the public perception of that has changed considerably.

What all xeriscapes do have in common is limited lawn area, primarily native species, little or no irrigation, and proper maintenance. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover that a SAWS WaterSaver Landscape is remarkably similar — and even more resilient since it’s designed with Texas’ drought-prone climate in mind.

Reduce the grass.

No landscape in the San Antonio region should consist of more than 50 percent grass. It uses two to four times more water annually than native woody perennial species like salvia, lantana, Turk’s cap, and skullcap.

Plant native species.

After the Big Freeze of February 2021, we learned one very important fact: Native species survived. Additionally, comparing species around town after the driest summer in 128 years, it is obvious that native species also scoff at severe drought. When rain is scarce, they simply go dormant. And they rebound abundantly as soon as showers return.

Water sparingly.

Much like the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” the amount of water applied must be just right or you risk disease, insect, or decline. If you miss the weekly watering advice, then use the standard irrigation system run times in the absence of significant rainfall.

  • 20 minutes for full sun lawns in June, July, August, and September.
  • 16 minutes for full sun lawns in May and October.
  • 12 minutes for full sun lawns in March, April, and November.
  • 15 minutes for beds.

If you have drip irrigation, watering will depend on design and hardware, but typically once a week or once every two weeks is all that’s needed.

Remember: Most native species need irrigation only four to 11 times a year. Any more is a waste of water.

Maintain minimally.

Excessive maintenance can lead to stress and decline and ultimately death for a plant. Less is more for many species, especially native ones. A plant’s energy, food, and protection are derived from its leaves. Likewise, nutrients for future use are locked in the fallen leaves. The key is moderation and consistency.

  • Mow turf weekly at the same height from mid-April to mid-October. Thereafter, once a month.
  • Prune woody perennials like salvia and lantana no more than three times a year, heavily in March, lightly in July and September.
  • Prune shrubs no more than twice a year — once in late March, once in late September.
  • Prune trees once every 4-7 years in winter or summer.

WaterSaver landscapes are resilient and can withstand the effects of drought, flooding, and freezing temperatures and still return to a full verdant state with little effort from you.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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