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Replacing water- and fertilizer-hungry grass lawns with low-maintenance, low-water xeriscape landscaping and native perennials is the prettiest way to save a considerable amount of water in drought-susceptible locations. Besides the sheer beauty of a low-water landscape, there are a number of big benefits that come with replacing a grass lawn with low-maintenance plants. Xeriscaping creates a healthy habitat for local wildlife and pollinators, improves the health of soil, decreases yard maintenance, improves sustainability and saves money on water.
If you’re ready to enjoy all of these benefits, you can start on your xeriscape landscape this fall. Most people think of spring as the time to start new perennials and landscape projects, but the truth is that autumn is the best time to plant just about anything. It’s also the perfect time to remove grass and prep your space for native and drought-tolerant plants. Follow the tips below to get started.
If you’re removing grass in the fall, your two best options are physical removal or sheet covering. Physically removing your grass will require a spade for a small area, or a rototiller for a larger area. Make sure you get the grass and weeds in your lawn out root-and-all. After you remove the grass, it’s a good idea to add a mix of topsoil and compost.
The other option for removing grass in the fall is a process called “sheet covering.” If you go this route, you can’t plant until the following spring. Even though you have to wait to plant, this method is an excellent choice because it leaves you with nutrient-rich soil in the spring. Sheet covering is often compared to making lasagna. Your ingredients are compost, cardboard or newspaper (10 sheets thick), organic materials like grass clippings, and mulch. Spread and moisten compost over the grass you want to get rid of, cover with overlapping cardboard or newspaper and moisten, cover with more compost, top with up to 18 inches of organic material and then top with a layer of mulch. Let it sit until spring and then plant.
Map Out Sun Exposure and Water Zones
Get to know your yard and map out the sun exposure and water zones by figuring out what areas, if any, will get additional irrigation and/or shade. Usually, “Zone 1,” or the zone that will get the most water, is closest to the house and the hose. Zone 2 will get less water than Zone 1, Zone 3 will get less than 2 and so on. Choose plants accordingly. If you plant perennials that will need to be watered during dry spells, group them together and plant them close to a water source. Plant your most xeric plants the furthest away.
Choose the Right Plants
Many local botanical gardens in the West have an area devoted to Xeriscape, and many people in Rocky Mountain town have planted low-maintenance landscapes. Take a look around, ask questions at your local nursery and go from there. Local extension offices and native plant societies offer plenty of information on native plants that do well in your area.
In order to create a successful Xeriscape landscape, you need to use the right plants for your zone, climate and soil. Low-water plants that do well in gravely, fast-draining soil will probably not do as well in clay soil. Also, some xeric plants don’t thrive in climates that get more than 20 inches of rain a year.
Plant Perennials, Spring-Blooming Bulbs, Trees and Shrubs in the Fall
If you’re not using the “sheet covering” method to remove grass and you have the perfect spot to start planting, go for it! Planting in the fall is ideal because it gives the transplant time to focus on growing a strong root system. The result is a healthy, beautiful plant in the spring. Try to get plants in the ground a few weeks before your first hard frost (when temperatures drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit for at least four hours), and water them a couple of times a week during that period. Depending on where you live, aim for planting from September through early October.