Simple Schemes Save Water Too

When it comes to redesigning your landscape, a frequent goal is to reduce the amount of lawn you have to maintain. So simple is better, especially if your design skills and time are limited.

As a professional forester with more than three decades of experience maintaining urban forests and landscapes, I thought I would impart some of my wisdom and share a few design ideas using the WaterSaver Landscape coupon.

I’m a simple guy so I’d definitely use a small tree or two and keep the plant palette to a minimum. That said, your ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of lawn because it uses two to three times more water than drought-tolerant perennials.

First things first, remove at least 200 square feet of grass by either digging it up, spraying it or covering it up. My standard method is to spray the area with either the organic mixture of orange oil, vinegar and soap or a 15-19 percent concentration of glyphosate. The site may require two applications. Use glyphosate judiciously. Frequent and indiscriminate use has detrimental effects on fauna.

I wait two weeks after the last application and then plant right into the dead grass. I’ll cover the area with two inches of woodchips or pine bark to suppress any regrowth. Others prefer suppressing the grass with cardboard or paper or by digging it up, but I don’t have the time or the energy.

Here are my suggested simple designs, complete with measurements and plant suggestions. Of course, you can use any of the permitted plants from the coupon!

Simple Design Options

Kidney-shaped bed in full sun

  1. Kidney shape area is (width1 + width2) x length x .45
  2. (14 + 12) x 18 x .45 = 210 square feet
  3. A Mexican olive and Texas mountain laurel planted four feet in on either side
  4. Salvia of your choice — I like S. leucantha or S. darcyi – equally spaced across the bed in between the two trees. Mexican oregano can be substituted for the Salvia
  5. 6 prostrate rosemary equidistant on the edges

Corner triangle in shaded backyard

  1. Height x base divided by 2
  2. 20 feet on two sides = 200 square feet
  3. possumhaw holly
  4. 5 shrimp plants (around the possumhaw)
  5. 9 inland sea oats along the front of the bed

Between sidewalk and curb

  1. 50 feet x 4 feet = 200 square feet
  2. esperanza (preferably ‘Orange Jubilee’ or ‘Gold Star’) in the center of the bed 15 feet apart Pride of Barbados or firebush can be substituted for the esperanza
  3. 6 red yucca — two between the esperanzas and two on each side
  4. 4 & 3 damianita or purple heart on either end

Along the fence line between you and your neighbor

  1. 40 feet x 5 feet = 200 square feet
  2. 1 Mexican buckeye on the end of the row
  3. 5 sotol, Spanish dagger or beaked yucca on 7-foot centers
  4. 9 purple heart scattered throughout

These are very easy designs for those whose design skills are limited. Keep it simple and limit the number of plants. Now, go out and terminate with prejudice some turf grass, apply for your coupon and then go shopping.

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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