Residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than 7 billion gallons of water each day. Designing a water-smart landscape can help you save money and water and doesn't have to mean piles of rocks and prickly cacti; in fact, it’s just the opposite. Today's yards that incorporate hardy native plants, proper soil amendments, mulch, and Smart irrigation systems (where needed), are beautiful, colorful, creative spaces that can add curb appeal and convenience. These landscapes typically require less fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance, meaning less time mowing and more time enjoying their beauty. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense program provides the information and resources needed to give any landscape a water-smart make-over. Since the program's inception in 2006, WaterSense has helped consumers save 125 billion gallons of water and more than $2 billion in water and energy bills. Whether you are designing a whole yard, replacing a small section of landscape, or simply trying to improve the efficiency of an existing irrigation system, WaterSense can help you put the pieces together. Look for the WaterSense label to identify water-saving controllers that will ensure your irrigation system provides ample irrigation for healthy plant growth without over-watering. Highlights from WaterSense’s online photo gallery provide a small sample of water-smart landscapes from throughout the country.  

Water-smart Landscapes

The City of Bellevue’s Waterwise Garden is a demonstration full of water-saving ideas for gardens of any size, age or style. The plants are well suited to site conditions, and grouped according to water needs for efficiency. Colorful, low-maintenance plants are used. Compost added to the soil increases soil water retention, and mulches cover exposed soil to conserve water and prevent weeds. Drip irrigation and weather-based irrigation controllers minimize irrigation water waste. A dedicated outdoor water meter monitors water use.

Photo courtesy of the City of Bellevue


West Jordan, Utah

This yard demonstrates the lowest water-using landscape within the Jordan Valley Conservation Garden Park, which was created to showcase water-wise landscaping. Extreme drought tolerance is achieved by using many Utah native and drought-adapted plant species in gravel mulch. After a three-year establishment period, this landscape has survived on only rain and snowfall. The landscape demonstrates that proper plant choices based on climatic conditions can produce beautiful landscapes with minimal water and maintenance.

Photo courtesy of the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District


Plano, Texas

The owners of this landscape replaced Bermudagrass with low-water-using, native plant species. Organic soil amendments were added to increase water infiltration and retention. Colorado River rock at the base of the roof downspouts slows and diffuses rainwater, allowing for increased infiltration and reduced runoff. In addition to using less water, the native plant species in this landscape attract and feed native wildlife.

Photo by Tonia M. Biggs


Los Altos, Calif.

This landscape in California uses drought-tolerant plants to reduce watering, and mulch to cover the soil — retaining moisture for plant roots and reducing evaporation. Plants are grouped by hydrozone to save water, and shade trees increase passive cooling of the landscape, reducing evaporation. All hardscape is permeable, allowing stormwater to stay onsite; and an efficient irrigation system with multi-stream rotator spray heads and drip irrigation reduces water waste.

Photo by Julie Orr Design


Roseville, Calif.

This Mediterranean-inspired landscape design features low-water-using plants and porous hardscape material to minimize watering and allow rainwater to soak into the soil. More than 1,000 square feet of lawn was replaced by hollow pavers (as part of the driveway) filled with soil and thyme groundcover to enhance infiltration and minimize stormwater runoff. All soil is covered with synthetic mulch to hold moisture at the plant’s roots and reduce water loss from evaporation.

Photo by Katrina Leonidov Fairchild, APLD


For the full photo-essay article, and many more examples of water-efficient landscapes, see the September issue of Landscape and Irrigation magazine.