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.




  1. nice work . in the landscapes that i design i try to use chop stones for my edging in lieu of the metal edging. i like the metal edging but the chopped stone does give a nice look and would work well with the nice home that you have. one other item i like to do with landscape designs when i can and that is i like to use berms to give the yard a more three dim look. i will sometimes use the berm with a nice boulder and this will really add a different look to the bed. just some ideals to think about.

    • Thanks for your comments. You are not seeing the new landscape fully established yet. The buffalo grass will grow to 4+” tall and virtually hide the metal bordering strips from view. We used a lot of chop stone along the dry river bed in the rear in front of the multitiered raised bed and boulders in the mulched areas to accent the plants. A berm just didn’t seem appropriate for the small front yard we have, but I plan to use berms when we do the back yard which is much more open spaced. We found the project to be a lot of fun both the design and construction aspect and look forward to seeing it looking much better in spring.

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  3. Greetings from Sunnyvale, CA… 5 years after your post! We, too, have been limited to water usage due to the last few years being in a drought, and our landscaping is the worst for it, which is why I was attracted to your post. The pictures give me some ideas (thank you!) and yet what I most appreciated is that you identified two issues we are currently facing (getting older and no longer so interested in “working outside”) and also the idea of phases (something I had never considered). Thanks for the inspiration, my friend.

  4. I love this. Could you post an updated pic?(2017). 5 years later, is there anything you would have done differently? Is it hard to keep mulch replenished/looking good?

    • Hi Marcia. I sent you an email with picture attachment. Actually, we just replenish mulch every 3 years so that is not a burden. I think we did it right the first time and wouldn’t change anything 6 years later.

  5. We are currently tearing out stressed & dying Kentucky bluegrass here in northern Colorado. We are replacing with terracing, a few xeric plants, and a more appropriate drought tolerant sod.
    Did you add amendments to the soil before laying sod, and if so, what?
    Did you need to change up any irrigation lines?
    How much maintenance do the xeric plants require?

    Thanks in advance, your yard is lovely!

    • Hi Mo, Thanks for your questions. I would recommend you contact your Ag or Hort. Extension service, or other local sources for advice since climate, landscape, and environments are very different in Colorado, vs. Austin, TX. I will say that our yard has no irrigation system at all and the native and adaptive plants are just that, totally adaptive to the heat and drought stresses they encounter here. On previous visits to Colorado, I noted that your area is rich in beautiful grasses. If using native plants, you shouldn’t need to amend your soil The LBJ Wildflower center has developed a new native grass mixture they call Habiturf which is a combination of three drought hardy grasses. If you have full sun, Buffalo grass is a possibility but as I said, check with local knowledgeable sources in your area and THANK YOU for being water-wise. Xeric plant maintenance is dependent on the plants you choose but overall are more maintenance free I find. Hope this is helpful to you.

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