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What to Know About Xeriscaping in California

Kimberly is a California native who incorporates water-conscious landscape design in an effort to live sustainably.

Add some color to your low water landscaping with succulents.

Add some color to your low water landscaping with succulents.

What is Xeriscaping?

Xeriscaping, often misspelled as Xeroscaping or Zeroscaping, is the style of landscaping designed for low water usage. The term xeriscaping has been around since the early 1980s. Coined by Denver Water in Colorado, the term is now being used throughout the world to describe low water use landscaping.

When we think of water-conscious landscaping, we may think of rocks or cacti—too many prickles and thorns! However, there are a variety of cacti and succulents that have no prickles and can provide an unexpected pop of color to your landscaping when flowering. There are many low water use plants available in California and just about anywhere in the world. There are a wide variety of plants to choose from.

Plant Varieties to Consider for California Xeriscape

  • Flowering Plants
  • Evergreens
  • Trees
  • Shrubs

Xeriscape Design Tips

Designing low water use landscaping can be done by just about anyone. There is no need for you to spend lots of money paying someone else for a design. You will have some planning to do. I suggest starting with a simple design and leaving room for additional plants later.

First, take a few pictures of your existing yard. Try to include a few angles. Print them out so you can have them in front of you as you create your new landscaping design. Next, I suggest buying some graph paper and drawing your yard to scale, leaving out the existing landscaping. Depending on the size of the area you are designing, maybe use each box on the page to represent a square foot.

Now begin your creation! If you have an idea of what you want your yard to look like, then you're halfway there. However, you can search images on the internet or even drive around town to find a yard and plants for inspiration.

Materials for Low-Water Landscaping

Xeriscape design usually includes rocks in the design or simple mulch; it is up to you. Done properly, it will fill in and accent your new landscaping and provide a weed barrier. There may be a rockery near you that will have selections of rocks or mulch to pick out.

The rockery can tell you how much you will need based on the size and shape of your yard. Rocks vary in price from $35 a ton and up. Mulch and compost will start at about $40 dollars a yard. Delivery charges start at about $50—remember to add them to your budget. Have some help to spread the new material at the time of delivery.

Next will be the planting. You may have cacti in mind or succulents. Some homeowners want to stick with native plants. There are pros and cons to each choice.


Most cacti have prickles! It can be difficult to plant and maintain cacti. The upside is that they generally require the least water. One trick I have learned to avoid prickles when planting and caring for cacti is using gloves and regular kitchen tongs to grab them.


Succulents are another choice. You can add them in with the cacti or choose succulents only. I like to mix all three types of plants together in one landscape. This adds interest and color. Keep in mind that it takes about two years for the plants to settle into their new environment and may need a little extra water during that time.

Native Plants

Native plants can add a lot of color and interest to a garden but will not necessarily save water. Most people choose to limit the native plants unless they are in the succulent or cactus family. It is important to consider the height of the plant in your design as well. Typically, the tallest are in the back, but this is not a rule.

Water-Saving Plants

Getting rid of your lawn will reduce your outdoor water use by 60–80 percent. Choosing low water use plants will keep your water use down.


Cacti are great for low water use plants. They can stand the hot sun and require little maintenance. Many cacti produce beautiful flowers and edible fruit.


Planting succulents is a wonderful way to save water indoors and outdoors, too. Succulents store their water in their leaves, allowing them to stand infrequent watering after they have been in the ground for two years and are established. I have found that succulents do like a little shade in dry, hot climates. Many of them will produce flowers all summer, too.

Native Plants

Native plants are not always a low water choice. Be sure to investigate how much water they will need. It will vary based on the type and size of the plant. I try to add a few native plants for color and interest.

Water Restrictions in California

Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills limiting water for California businesses, agriculture, and residential households. These limits will be permanent. Brown wants to stay ahead of the next possible drought.

California's five-year drought has been declared over. Although as you travel through California cities and forests, it is apparent that the trees and rivers are low on water. Iconic forests have changed from lush green to grey and brown.

For now, the indoor water use will be 55 gallons per day per person to be reduced to 50 gallons per day per person by 2030. Outdoor water restrictions are yet to be determined. Limitations will be decided by local water districts. Restrictions are also being put on agricultural and industrial communities.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Kimberly Lake (author) from California on September 05, 2018:

Yes we have had many restrictions in California, and more to come unfortunately, Thank you for your comment, I hope you enjoyed the article.

Mary Wickison from USA on September 05, 2018:

Wow, I didn't know about those limitations in California. I am originally from California, and know how devastating the droughts can be.

This is the first time, I have heard the term xeriscaping. I currently live in a semi arid part of the tropics so many of these suggestions are useful.

Interesting article.