Is Xeriscape Different from Sustainable Landscape Design?

In recent years, sustainability has become a much larger part of the Denver landscape design conversation. No matter where you are located, as our natural environment faces a slew of threats, from pollution, habitat loss, to the effects of climate change, we need to do everything we can to protect and conserve our natural resources—especially in our own backyards.

If you live in an arid environment, like the American Southwest, you’ve probably heard the term xeriscape in conversation with sustainable landscaping. But how do these terms differ? What do they have in common?

Here, we take a closer look at sustainability, how it’s come to play a larger role in landscape design, and how it differs from xeriscape. We then conclude with a few practical tips for introducing xeriscaping into your very own outdoor space.


Sustainability is a word we often hear, but may not entirely understand its meaning. We all know sustainability is a good thing, but what does it look like? According to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), sustainability can be understood as “the integration of environmental health, social equity and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse and resilient communities.” In essence, sustainability is all about recognizing, maintaining, and protecting the important connections between ourselves and the natural world.


Sustainable landscape design applies the basic principles of sustainability to your yard. Sustainable landscape encourages homeowners to make landscaping decisions that reduce the impact on the natural environment, preserve natural resources, and keep their spaces in harmony with the surrounding environment.

While many may believe that a landscaping project will inevitably disrupt the environment, sustainable landscape design proves that you can have both a beautiful and environmentally friendly landscape. Over time, you can even save on costs. It all comes down to choices. Here are a few of the many ways to make your landscape design more sustainable:

  • Use native plants.
  • Grow plants in pots.
  • Use a rain barrel to conserve water.
  • Plant trees to reduce erosion.
  • Pave over surfaces with permeable materials.
  • Use reclaimed water.
  • Cut down on pesticides and excess fertilizers.
  • Turn your yard into a habitat for local wildlife.


According to National Geographic, xeriscaping is the practice of designing a landscape to minimize or completely reduce the need for irrigation. Xeriscaping is especially important in dry, arid climates, such as Colorado or the American Southwest, which don’t receive a lot of precipitation. By reducing the need for irrigation on your property, you can help to conserve water—arguably our most vital natural resource—which is why xeriscaping is a core component of sustainable landscaping.

Thus, xeriscaping isn’t so much different from sustainable landscape design as it is just one piece of the puzzle. Xeriscaping can be an effective way to conserve water, cut down on irrigation costs, and allow your landscape to work in harmony with a naturally arid environment. Here are just a few practical tips to make xeriscaping a part of your landscape:

1. Drought-tolerant plants.

Nothing says xeriscaping like cacti or other succulents. Drought-tolerant plants require far less watering and have better survival rates in arid climates because they’ve evolved to fit these places. In addition to cacti, other popular drought-tolerant plants include agave, juniper, and lavender. If you’re planting a herb garden, thyme, oregano, and sage all do well in arid environments.

2. Limit your lawn.

We all know that a healthy and green lawn requires extensive watering, especially in the hotter summer months. This is why many xeriscaping designs work to minimize or completely eliminate ornamental grasses and lawns. In the place of a traditional lawn, consider installing a rock garden or planting native plants, shrubs, and trees. Many homeowners also use this as a chance to build a patio or deck, which not only saves on water costs, but also adds utility to your space.

3. Efficient irrigation.

Many might believe that xeriscaping requires you to entirely cut irrigation out of your landscape design—but this isn’t true. Most landscapes will require some form of watering or irrigation, but you can do so in smart and efficient ways. Using drip and soaker hoses, as compared to a traditional sprinkler system, can water your plants and yards much more efficiently. Additionally, you should avoid watering in the middle of the day when the sun is up and you’ll lose a significant amount to evapotranspiration. Watering in the evening helps your plants and soil retain much more moisture.

4. Soil amendments.

Soil type plays an important role in xeriscaping. Dry soil is much less effective at absorbing and retaining water. To fix this, try mixing in compost and other organic material to help your soil drain well and retain water.

5. Mulch.

Whether you’re using wood chips, pine straw, or even inorganic mulch, this protective barrier can prove critical in arid environments. Mulch can protect your plants and trees from losing too much moisture, which in turn requires far less watering on your part. There’s a wide variety of mulching options available to fit your needs.


There’s never been a more important time to protect our environment. Facing multiple threats, such as pollution and climate change, we all must do our part to conserve our precious natural resources and sustain all forms of life on the planet. Of course, no single person can address these environmental issues, but we can work together to make a better planet. Additionally, we can do our part in our own local environments to choose sustainable practices.

In many ways, xeriscape and sustainable landscape design are one in the same. These practices highlight the need to live in balance with your natural environment and advocate for methods allowing you to do so. By choosing native plants, using smarter irrigation methods, and conserving natural resources, you can save on time, money, and do your part in protecting our natural environment. Sustainability, at its core, recognizes that we vitally depend on the world around us. If you are in Denver, let your home reflect this by incorporating Colorado sustainable landscape practices.

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