By Perry Brätt
Featured in Utah Construction & Design - November 2020 Issue 

For the past several decades, xeriscaping— or creating an outdoor space that doesn’t require a lot of irrigation—has been a popular way to create a beautiful landscape without relying on an abundant water supply. Clean, safe water is a limited resource that animals, plants and humans alike need in order to grow and thrive, so it makes sense to limit its use in dryer areas like in large portions of Utah. Despite its many advantages, xeriscaping can be a hard sell to people and corporations who love the look of a lush, green lawn.

Xeriscaping is often thought of as a sparse landscape with few to zero plants— but xeriscaping is about so much more than sparse planting and an overabundance of rocks. There is no official water use threshold that defines when a landscape becomes a true xeriscape project. The spirit of this kind of landscape design is to limit the impact of an outdoor space on its surrounding environment.

Here are four things to consider when incorporating xeriscaping into a residence or corporate environment, each allowing for less water without sacrificing plant options:

  1. Water recycling
    For some projects, large trees or lush vegetation are a necessity. Whether
    for privacy, oxygenation, shade or for structures like treehouses, larger
    plants can add a lot of value to the space they’re in. However, they often
    use a lot of water. Recycling is one way to offset the high impact on the
    environment. Rain can be collected and used in irrigation systems.
    Innovative water features can even use pumps to recycle rainwater or
    runoff. Additionally, features like rain gardens and permeable pavers help absorb water and return it to the soil.
  2. Local plants
    A basic principle of xeriscaping is that plants should be acclimated
    to the local climate. The reason local plants use less water is that
    they’re already adapted to the soil and hydrology of the region. Native
    plants have evolved to survive in the area without human intervention,
    so they can continue to thrive with natural rainfall and weather
    patterns. Not only do local plants generally require less water, they
    usually need less maintenance and fertilizer as well, so planting
    them can save money and reduce the amount of chemicals that seep
    into the ground. Native plants are naturally great for native species like
    birds and pollinators, too.
  1. Redefining turf
    There’s no need to give up a manicured greenspace in pursuit
    of an environmentally-friendly landscape design. Project managers
    and clients just need to adjust their conception of what grass looks
    and feels like. There are a variety of grasses available that will add that
    soft, green feel to an outdoor design without draining the local water
    reservoir. A promising specimen is the turf-type tall fescue. New
    cultivations have a strong green color with deeper roots and a higher
    drought tolerance. Turf-type tall fescue uses up to 30-percent less
    water than traditional bluegrass, so it’s a great option for xeriscaping
    when used in moderation.
  2. Unconventional choices
    A well-balanced landscape is about more than just plants. Play spaces,
    synthetic turf, lounge areas, fire pits, hammocks, sandboxes, paths,
    swinging benches and large outdoor games are all alternatives to water-using plants. Creative solutions like these add usable, beautiful touches to a planned landscape project without using more water. By reframing the ideas and philosophy of what landscape design has to be, landscaping can both look green and be green at the same time. The EPA estimates
    that 30-percent of the water the average American family uses is devoted to outdoor application. Utah is not only one of the driest states in the nation, it’s one of the fastest-growing. Wise water management is a key strategy to help keep the Utah economy strong.

Perry Brätt is a founder of Stratton and Brätt. For more than five decades, the Brätt brothers have been creating beautiful landscapes to spec and on budget. Brätt holds a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and general contractor and engineer licenses.