Following a devastatingly hot and dry summer, reality has set in and we knew we had to made a dramatic change to our landscape in view of future forecasts of continuing drier and hotter than normal weather for years to come. So we designed an entirely new front yard landscape which removed all St. Augustine turf and replaced it with native and adaptive perennials in hardwood mulched areas and a minimum of turf area using prairie buffalo grass. HOA guidelines had to be followed and fortunately our HOA has proactively adopted xeriphytic landscaping guidelines and encourages this transformation.
We are not unlike most homeowners with a small residential lot, who have a limited budget so cost was indeed a consideration. Our approach to constructing this in a cost effective way was as follows:
1, Identify those tasks that are beyond our physical or technical capability and contract that work. In our case that resulted in St. Augustine turf removal (done effectively with a strong weed eater) and some masonry work to expand a raised bed to match the house architecture.
2. Identify and stage materials needed. This mainly involved purchasing of 4” steel bordering strips to outline turf vs. mulched areas and to provide bordering along property lines to keep out neighbors St. Augustine grass.
3, Gather decorative limestone boulders and rock from construction sites when permissible or possible. You never know when or how these can be used in a garden landscape. We were able to use natural rock that we collected 5 years ago which saved a lot.
4. Do construction work in planned phases, pacing the work so that as each step progresses, you can better envision the outcome and make any necessary adjustments during rather than after construction. In our case, the steps were grass removal, bordering, masonry and dry river bed building, sodding, mulching and stone pathways, and final perennial planting.
5. Order natural materials in bulk a day ahead of placement. We first ordered a palette of buffalo grass and layed it the next day, followed by hardwood mulch – also spread the next day. Any surplus materials were used elsewhere in the yard.
6. Any sod work requires loosening the soil, shaping and tampering the sod firmly and watering daily for up to 3 weeks following to ensure the grass has taken root. Our sodded areas are about 1/3rd of the total front yard area. Buffalo grass, when 3-4” tall will add a nice contrast to the mulched perennial beds.
7. Last step is the planting of perennials. We chose natives that will provide a variety of flowering colors and textures, using the City of Austin Grow Green book as our primary reference. Finding sources may be challenging at times but local nurseries were able to order the plants they didn’t already have which met our needs. Our planting layout incorporated evergreen with deciduous plants in groupings.
8. The last step was the placement of decorative natural rocks and boulders to provide a natural look. These are the rocks we had collected and saved over time. We added some additional décor like three décor pots of different sizes and coloring in a grouping.
9. Our curbside strip was incorporated into the overall front yard landscape as well to give it a unified look and feel.
Now the final accounting. We were able to do all this work in a weeks time (being retired), not counting the time developing the design and plan, The total cost was below $2,000. Normally we wouldn’t consider spending even that much on landscaping, but consider it an investment that will pay off time and time again as we enter a period of water restriction and continued unfavorable climate conditions. We will use much less water, have to do much less work to maintain it, and get to enjoy a variety of beautiful native/adaptive plants rather than just look at a solid green (or dead looking) St. Augustine lawn.
We share this story with you because we feel many are reluctant to take this plunge for a variety of reasons. If we in our late 60’s, on a fixed retirement income, can do it, so can you. The important thing is to realize that it is a good investment of time and resources that will provide years of benefit to you and your neighbors down the road. Our next step is to do the same to the back yard in spring 2012. So bye bye St. Augustine grass. We won’t miss you! You will note that this landscape doesn’t have a ‘desert’ look which is a common misconception of xeriscaping. Xeriscape means using water saving plants of all types. Hopefully, you will be inspired to go xeriphytic also.