Water is a limited and expensive resource, so designing your backyard in a way that doesn’t depend on water is not only an environmentally sound decision, but also a financially smart choice.

Many homeowners, particularly those in drought-prone parts of the country, are converting portions of their lawns to low water landscapes, making use of grass alternatives such as low maintenance ground cover, low water plants, and extended hardscapes.  Healthy lawns offer incredible environmental benefits; however, for those exploring options, here are some things to consider.

Low Maintenance Ground Cover

Low maintenance ground cover like creeping perennials are tight to the ground and keep out weeds and allow air, water, and nutrients to get to plant roots. Options include mat-forming New Zealand Brass Buttons and Scotch or Irish Moss.

Besides being good creepers, many ground-hugging perennial herbs are often nicely scented, sturdy under foot traffic, and even edible. Such considerations include chamomile, Corsican mint, and various thymes.

Creeping perennials cost $6 to $10 per plant. A 15-foot-by-20-foot area with plants two inches apart requires 300 plants. If you’re patient enough to wait a year or so for them to spread, you can buy fewer plants and space them 12 inches apart.

Clover is another good option for low maintenance ground cover. Sweet-scented, inexpensive, and durable, white clover grows in any kind of soil and stays green even during low-water periods. Clover is an inexpensive ground cover option, costing under about $10 per pound.

Low Water Plants

Consider succulents when choosing low-water plants. Succulents store water in the fleshy parts of the plant’s leaves, so they need less water and need water, less often than many other types of plants. As well as being drought tolerant, succulents aren’t too picky with soil type.

Common types of succulents include agave, aloe, stonecrop and crassula.

Protect Your Plants

Once your ground cover and low water plants are installed, add shade to prevent water loss. Plant several trees or higher growing plants on the west and south side of your yard to shield the lower growing plants from the sun. Even partial shade is enough to save some water for your plants.

Also consider incorporating natural boulders and stone around plants.  Plants love to be paired with boulders and rocks, since moisture in the soil accumulates around them, and the rocks provide heat stabilization for the plants’ roots. In addition to the practical benefits stones provide, they also offer attractive ornamental décor for your landscape.

Another way to protect your plants is to place mulch around them. Many people mistakenly believe mulch is just a decorative finish for a landscape but in fact, it provides tremendous health value for plants. Mulch placed over soil blocks the sun’s rays so that water stays in the soil and gets to the plants’ root system better. Without mulch, direct sun hits the soil, causing water to evaporate more quickly.  When it comes to the health of your plants, mulch is not a nice-to-have, it’s essential.


Another way to preserve water in your landscape is to group plants together according to their water needs, a practice known as hydrozoning. Installing similar plants together allows you to water an entire area in the same way you would water one single plant, saving both time and water.


Some homeowners look to lower water use in their yard by expanding their hardscaping. Hardscape features are the inanimate aspects of a landscape, features such as pathways, patios, fencing and pergolas, which are constructed to enhance outdoor living environments.  These projects can add beauty to a yard and minimizing plantings, thereby reducing the water needs of the landscape.  

There is not just one way to create a low water use landscape. There are a myriad of options that are available to those looking to create an eco-friendly outdoor living space, options that appeal to different styles, tastes, and budgets.  If you would like to learn more about what options you should consider to reduce water use in your yard, talk with your landscape professional.   

Photo courtesy of Hoffman Landscapes, Wilton, CT.

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