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 hear from anyone for ten years. Here you would be fined over any 8 month period for not mowing it. We get too much rain! Even in gravel yards installed correctly, after three to 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:
In the sixties the Denver area was experiencing a drought. As the city grew someone realized the water supply had a limit! The population was growing with tons of new houses. Young couples bought the best house they could afford. The smart ones increased the loan to cover new appliances and furniture. After a few nights they wished they had some money for drapes or blinds, but towels or sheets had to work! Then when spring roled around they noticed they forgot the yard! With little money, they bought two trees, shrubs to go across the front, and some grass seed. That's the best way to get the most for your money. As the new home sales increased into the thousands, somone noticed what had happened. The landscapes were 95% lawn, and lawns guzzle the most water!
Denver had a water limit and a water shortage problem. Someone thought, "What if we reduced the average lawn size form 95% of the lot to 33%?" The City of Denver coined the word "Zeriscape" and defined it as a landscape style with conservation as a main goal. They established the Zeriscape model as 1/3 beds, 1/3 hardscapes, and 1/3 lawn. This reduces the biggest water user for 95% to 33%! 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.
So the Xeriscape model is:
1/3 lawn - 1/3 beds - 1/3 hardscape
The Zeroscape model is all gravel.
My Dad used to say a concrete sidewalk needs to be swept now and then, meaning there is no such thing as "no maintennance". And remember, weeds will eventually grow in the gravel. It's best to never let them get established. Plan for regular battles. Plan to spray anything, everything that you didn't plant and don't want. Regularly! Much less maintennace than a landscape with flowers, shrubs and trees and grass. But not no maintennace!
My advice could be worth what you're paying for it (nothing).
Assuming you'll have some grass, what are your options?
Bermuda, St. Augustine, Zoysia, Buffalo, or Fescue
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 to ten 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 thirty 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 ($2 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.
I'm listing the plants that have proven 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, Gold Star 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 us, we 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, but hey are tough!
There are many more so come by and we will show you!