Austin Xeriscaping – Someday Mandatory like El Paso?

by Sylvia Crossland on October 30, 2012 · 14 comments

xeriscape path

Austin Xeriscaped Path

Steve and I took a GRI class last week in pursuit of more knowledge about current real estate trends and practices. I always find these educational courses to be informative and helpful.

My biggest “take away” from this class was when one of my fellow classmates, who drove over 900 miles from El Paso for the 4-day class, shared with us the current landscaping requirements in El Paso. ALL new homes there are now being required to use xeriscape landscaping in the front yards because of the water shortage.

I wonder how long before the same requirement comes to Austin?

So Saturday as I was taking my buyer clients around looking at different houses, I was pointing out features that I may have overlooked in the past. One home had full gutters and a rain barrel capture system in place which I highlighted as a plus. Also, in the very small fenced in front yard where there was mostly Bermuda grass,  I suggested, “You can take this grass out and put in xeriscape with native Texas landscaping”.

This whole idea of “no grass” front yards has really got me thinking.

Why do we have all our front yards full of St Augustine and other grasses that need so much water to maintain? Why not take out all or at least some of the grass in our front yards and replace it with xeriscaping which will be much more beautiful and need much less water?

“What is xeriscaping?” you may ask. Here is Wikapedia’s definition:

Xeriscaping and xerogardening refer to landscaping and gardening in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. It is promoted in regions that do not have easily accessible, plentiful, or reliable supplies of fresh water, and is gaining acceptance in other areas as climate patterns shift. Although xeriscaping may be an alternative to various types of traditional gardening, it is usually promoted as a substitute for Kentucky bluegrass lawns.”

With the population of Austin expected to double by 2030 to over 3M people in the metro area, and water supply quickly becoming  a bigger issue, we are going to see a lot more landscaping requirements and watering restrictions. It might be a good idea to be prepared and get ahead of the game starting to invest in more native and drought resistant plants now. Looking at my own yard, it’s mostly lawn like, most of our neighbors’ yards as well. I’m already starting to think of some design ideas.

One of my favorite sources for landscaping plants and supplies and knowledgeable attendants that can answer any of your questions about your project large or small is The Natural Gardener Located on Old Bee Cave Road. Here is a link to their website: http://www.naturalgardeneraustin.com.

What do you think?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tim October 31, 2012 at 7:32 am

Xeriscaping shifts the burden from mowing to weeding. It would be fantastic if we could get developers on board. So much easier to implement when you’re already shaving off all vegetation.

I pretty much shaved my water usage in half this year, though, after converting my entire front yard last year.

2 Sylvia October 31, 2012 at 8:01 am

Tim, yes weeding can be tedious work and you have to keep up with it weekly, at least. It is nice to hear your water usage was cut in half. That is great news, thank you for sharing.

3 Brendon October 31, 2012 at 8:26 am

It’s also important to remember that all of East Austin and some parts of West Austin are actually blackland prairie. If you have thick black clay soil then you can consider seeding a pocket prairie in your yard. Native American Seed http://www.seedsource.com is a great resource. My large east Austin backyard is now a grass and wildflower prairie that requires no additional water and I’m in the process of turning my front yard into a mix of xeriscaped beds surrounding shade tolerant native grasses and wildflowers.

4 Sylvia October 31, 2012 at 11:38 am

Brendon, that is really interesting and very good information. Great link too! Thanks!

5 Andy October 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I got excited about xeriscaping during my first flight into Tucson. From 20,000 feet I could tell that Tucson had no illusions about wasting water on grass in the desert. There was green but the dominant color was brown.

The hill country may not be a desert but our lawns have no business being green all year. I’ll be happy to see more Austin homes making the shift to xeriscaping. It will be interesting to watch how that tide plays out with the established HOAs.

6 Bryan Rogers October 31, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Native landscaping is where it’s at these days. Using plants that use very little water or none is the key to new landscaping here in Austin. I design all my landscapes like the landscapes of Mexico. Agaves, yuccas, cactus, and native grasses work the best. I do use some palms. Little do most people know..palms are drought tollerant.
Stay clear of St Augustine grass completely. It takes the most water and the most care for it to grow properly.
Bermuda grass is great but it will be your biggest enemy. It can take over your beds over night. Bermuda propergates by seed. If you do not mow it every week it will spit seeds every where. These seeds blow in the wind and get into your beds, and will turn your beds into nice putting greens.
Zoysia grass is the best type of grass to install. It can take a bit of shade and it can hold up in a drought. The only draw back is tha it is the first grass to go dormant in the winter.
If you ever in need of landscape help give me a call 512.243.2413. J B Rogers Landscape

7 Sylvia November 1, 2012 at 8:01 am

Andy, I’m really excited about it too and want to gradually eliminate most of our grass. Right now I think a solid xeriscaped front yard will be violating HOA restrictions for many neighborhoods. It will be interesting to see that change as new developments go in. Will they implement new restrictions allowing more xeriscaped lawns? Bryan, my grass is Bermuda, so I know what you mean about it taking over the yard. So I have a question for Bryan, what will your current workers do when they come to mow and the grass is mostly gone with xeriscaped beds in it’s place? Will they weed? Will this cost more? Take more time? How will your business model change with the changing landscape?

8 bryan rogers November 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

Yes it will be mostly weeding. We would like to
keep the monthly costs the same, but more than likely it
will go up. Its funny save $ on water and pay more $ on the
up keep.

9 Sylvia November 7, 2012 at 11:35 am

Bryan, I figured it will take more time than the usually “mow, blow and go” that the landscapers do now.

10 Tim November 13, 2012 at 10:15 am

I think we’re also going to have to develop less fussy xeric landscaping templates. My yard was supposed to be less work, but lets be honest – it’s a gardner’s garden. It shouldn’t be a template for a low-maintenance yard, and I think most xeric landscapes are like that right now.
Using a think layer of cedar mulch with thick spreading plants like lantana and prickly pear for visual interest is probably much more in line with weed control needs.

11 Mim November 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I’ve been enjoying the blog for a while, and really appreciate getting the realtors’ viewpoint.

I have to ask –

How did your prospective homebuyer clients react when you suggested, “You can take this grass out and put in xeriscape with native Texas landscaping” ? And are you and Steve seeing any awareness of Central Texas’ water conservation issues when you talk to prospective homebuyers?

The Statesman had a article this morning on water infrastructure and conservation issues, and how the legislature doesn’t seem to have the will to start dealing with them.

Thanks!

12 Sylvia December 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Tim, these are good points and making the landscaping low maintenance and beautiful all year round are a must. Lantana is a good ground cover and has beautiful yellow and pink “showy” flowers. The young plants are not deer resistant, so this can be a problem with a lot of areas around Austin. Sage is still my favorite because the flowers bloom most of the year and there are many colors to choose from.

Mim, good question! The buyer gave me a blank stare, but I think this was mostly because she is not a gardener and the idea of pulling out the grass and adding something new seemed daunting to her.

I also want to point out that I recently put a home on the market featuring the xeriscape yard, drought resistant plants and zoysia grass. We received multiple offers the first day it went on the market and I know, based on feedback, that the yard was seen as a plus by the buyers who were interested. The cheapest way to add value to your home is good landscaping. All you need is some good dirt, drought resistant plants and a shovel!
Sylvia

13 Trey Jackson January 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I’ll bet it does become mandatory in the very near future. Wrote an article this morning talking about the very same thing and my idea was to invest in desalinization. Seems crazy to leave our entire existence to chance, depending solely on what’s essentially just rainwater. Great post.

14 Phoenix May 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Also less water means less bugs, leave it to the bug man to throw in his two sense.. haha

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