It's Xeriscape, not Zeroscape. It doesn't mean gravel and a few cactus. Somebody went to Phoenix where they have gravel yards and thought they could do the same here. Think about it: you could buy a vacant lot in Pheonix, pay the taxes and never here from anyone for ten years. Here you would be fined over any 8 month period for not mowing it. We get too much rain! After five years enough dust will blow into the gravel to grow every weed and grass there is. So be careful what you do! Here's the real scoop on Xeriscaping:
The word was coined by the city of Denver in the sixties and defined as a lifestyle with conservation as a main goal. Your landscaping can be a big part of your lifestyle. Your landscape can be a drunk, or fit and responsible. In the old days with foundation hedges and two trees, you were left with 95% lawn. Lawns use up the most water, and water should be conserved.
So the Xeriscape model shoots at:
Cutting down from 95% to 33% is huge. 95% to 0% can be ugly. Excuse me, "Harsh" is a kinder word. Also I always say it doesn't matter what I think; I don't live there. You do. My advice could be worth what you're paying for it (nothing).
Assuming you'll have some grass, what are your options?
Turffalo is a hybrid buffalo grass that's the perfect combination of drought tolerance, texture, and growth. Rather than rewrite it all, go to TURFFALO.com. We also (and the Turffalo people) have ShadowTurf. It will grow in filtered shade, but not in the dark. There has to be some sunshine to grow any kind of grass. My experience is that Turffalo is not competitve with other grasses including Bermuda. So if you have Bermuda in the neighborhood, I would seed common Buffalo and let them fight it out. Who cares who wins. But if you invest a lot into Turffalo and you wind up with a Bermuda lawn, you might not like it.
Putting one inch of water on your lawn once a week will grow great grass even in the heat of summer - and even for St. Augustine! Questions may arise: How do I know when I've put an inch on? How do I do it without half of it running off? Way to be thinking! Great questions! The only way to know how much water your sprinkler system or sprinklers are putting out is to measure them with rain guages (tin cans) Put at least three (five is better), run the water for fifteen minutes, measure the water in the cans, average it out (add the inches up in all the cans and divide by the number of cans) to get how many inches you are applying per quarter hour (fifteen minutes). If it's a quarter inch, it will take an hour to put on an inch, if a third 45 minutes, if a half 30 minutes, etc.
I have discovered that I can water my St. Augustine every other week if I put 1 1/2 inces on at a time. Other grasses (except Fescue) would take even less! This means 3 inches a month versus 4 if you water weekly with one inch. My St Augustine did not grow in the sun, but it lived. In the shade it grew!
Now about preventing run off: If you have a sprinkler system, cut the needed time in half and run through the zones again immediately after the first rotation ends. Also, and even better, is to use Olive's OIL. It's a Bio-Stimulant that has penetrating soaps that get water deeper and faster in your soil. It's been working for over twenty-five years. You should be using it. A quart covers 5,000 square feet and costs $15 (dollar off on refills) and a gallon covers 20,000 sq ft and costs $45 ($3 off on a gallon refill)
Beds take much less water than grass. They are more expensive to install, but save you in the long run. One expense you shouldn't avoid is mulching. In a 10 foot by 10 foot area sixty gallons of water can evaporate in one day. If it is mulched, there is no evaporation! Instead of watering ever day or two and still having stressed plants, deep soak (and I mean flood) every three to four weeks if you have totally established plants. Do this with mulch and see if your plants don't like it! I like to think of mulch as a sack of shade you are spreading out over your soil. As shrubs get bigger and ground covers get thicker, they provide more and more of their own shade, so you begin to need less mulch. I like mulch that decomposes like Pine Bark Mulch (not bark chips) because that feeds the soil organisms and improves the texture and fertility of your soil. Mulch also keeps the soil temperature down in the summer and up in the winter. If you are designing a new back yard I suggest starting with a plan on paper before you begin planting or putting in edging that defines beds. When you design remember that the goal is 1/3 bed area! We can help you with what to put in the areas. And with preparing the soil. There is good info on this under "Bed Prep" under the "Seasonal Info" tab.
Hardscape are driveways, decks, patios, gravel areas, etc. The goal is 1/3, not 100%! My experience is that gravel areas are very maintenance free if installed correctly FOR ABOUT FIVE YEARS! By then enough dust has blown in on top of the fabric to grow most weeds and grass. Anyone with a gravel area should routinely walk the area with a sprayer of Round UP. The best way to buy Round Up is called Quick-Pro, a dry packet that makes one gallon of liquid. We sell it at Olive's!!!
I'm listing the plants that have proved themselves as winners (they laugh at the heat and drought!):
Caesalpinia pulcherrima or Pride of Barbados Mexican Bird of Paradise
These are the 5 to 6 foot shrubs that have the spectacular orange-red blooms. They are beautiful all summer and fall. Without a doubt they have been incredible!
Tecoma stans or Gold Star or Esparanza or Yellow Bells
These guys will bloom without ceasing late spring to frost! Growing 3 to 5+ feet and having clusters of bright yellow blooms above attractive green foliage makes these a big winner. No bugs, no burned leaves, no chlorotic yellow leaves, just gorgeous yellow blooms all the time!!! There are also orange and red esparanzas!
Lantana (many varieties)
Lantana never burn off or look bad. If they quit blooming in August it's because they have lacebugs. They get on the underside of the leaves and suck the life out of them. Not enough to kill them, but enough to keep them from blooming. If that happens, come see me, I have the cure. I like to plant the white and lavender trailing varieties touching in the same hole or pot and intertwine their branches. You get a stunning mix of blooms!
Anisacanthus or Red Flame Acanthus or the original Hummingbird Bush!
The orangy-red blooms are consistant and easy. These guys are a little agressive and can spread. They are tough!
There are many more so come by and we will show you!