15 Beautiful Design Ideas for Xeriscape Gardens

If you’re looking for creative ways to incorporate native plants into your garden while reserving your natural resources and working with your landscape instead of against it, join organic farmer Jenna Rich as she discusses 15 design ideas for xeriscape gardens.

xeriscape design. The flowerbed contains plants such as Sedum telephium, purple African Daisy, bright orange marigolds, Lobularia maritima, purple petunias, Coleonema, and others. The flowerbed is fenced with decorative stones, and the soil is covered with small white pebbles as mulch.


The average American household uses 320 gallons of water per day day, with about 30% going to landscape uses. A gardening method called xeriscaping can dramatically reduce the need for irrigation by integrating water-saving elements like rainwater catchment, lawn alternatives, drought-tolerant native plants, mulch, and rock accents.

This concept began in the southwestern United States, where drought has become an expensive phenomenon. Apply it anywhere you want attractive landscaping but have a limited water supply.

Let’s explore 15 alternative gardening methods that won’t have you reaching for the hose.

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Why Practice Xeriscaping? 

View of a xeriscape garden landscape with perennials and ornamental grasses along the side of a high white fence. Plants such as Pennisetum alopecuroides, Calamagrostis Stricta, Silver mound and Juniperus virginiana grow in the flower bed.
Design gardens with native plants for eco-friendly, low-maintenance landscapes.

Many of us imagine the perfect home lined with a white picket fence, surrounded by lush green grass and colorful annuals popping up in a front yard garden. Instead, imagine if, across the globe, homeowners and land developers learned to design gardens around native plants, trees, and shrubs that grew best in their zone, creating more resilient, efficient, and eco-conscious gardens that didn’t rely heavily on gardener inputs. 

Benefits of xeriscaping include:

  • Conserve natural resources
  • Reduced maintenance
  • Improved soil health
  • Cheaper water bill
  • Support local wildlife by providing nesting and roosting areas
  • Grow host plants for endangered butterflies
  • Provide food sources for birds in the deep winter
  • Provide nectar for a variety of pollinators

If the idea of creating a natural habitat on your property appeals to you and you want to create a more eco-friendly garden requiring less water input, here are 15 practical yet simple ways to get started. When you use the right plants, a xeriscape garden doesn’t have to be all rocks and cacti, I promise!

Rock Gardens 

View of xeriscape rock garden. Plants such as Calandrinia, Aloe commixta, Sedum palmeri, Petunia SureShot, Poppies, palms and other drought-resistant plants grow in the flowerbed. The flowerbed is decorated with large and medium-sized stones of different shapes and colors. The soil is covered with many smooth stones of different colors of white, gray and beige.
Dry gardening conserves water because plants thrive with natural moisture.

One of the main goals of dry gardening is to conserve water by growing plants that thrive solely on the moisture Mother Nature provides. In areas with sparse rainfall, native plants are most likely to fare the best. Various stonecrops, Veronica, and cushion spurge are all solid contenders for rock gardens. 

The particles that rocks are made of naturally hold onto water, slowly seeping into the space between rocks over time. This water may add just enough moisture to the root system to tide a plant over until the next rainfall. However, some plants appreciate supplemental water during extended droughts.

Use different sizes and colored rocks to create borders, paths, and plant perimeter designs. Gravel is a good option for the main walking area. Explore color combinations and incorporate plants that thrive in dry or rocky soil for a natural look. Plant items before adding rocks in case you change your mind about their placement or want to add more last minute. Wide stones have the added benefit of weed suppression. 

Remember to scale the rocks to your space. Keep your stones and rocks smaller if your space is small, stacking larger ones used as a focal point. Larger spaces can handle larger rocks and stepping stones. Elevate the space by adding sharp lines with borders and flattened stones with 90° angles. 

Incorporate Herbs

Close-up of a xeriscape garden bed with flowering lavender plants and Karl Foerster grass.Lavender plants are characterized by their slender, aromatic stems adorned with clusters of small, fragrant flowers in shades of purple. These flowers feature delicate petals arranged in spikes atop the stems.
Choose drought-tolerant herbs like lavender, thyme, and rosemary for gardens.

Herbs are surprisingly drought-tolerant, and some are cold-hardy, making them an easy choice for gardens across many zones. Lavender, thyme, tarragon, and rosemary are all great options. There are many different cultivars, so be sure to find one that will perform well in your zone and is drought-tolerant. 

For example, Thymus mastichina, also known as Spanish marjoram ‘Mastic Thyme’ is an intensely fragrant drought-tolerant shrub with lavender-like flower spikes. Thymus serpyllum, creeping thyme, or ‘Magic Carpet’ is a lovely purple ground cover that can tolerate foot traffic. Russian sage is another extremely tough and hardy perennial herb that thrives in drought conditions. 

Pro tip: If your growing zone is on the edge of a particular cultivar’s hardiness zone, keep the herb in a pot so you can bring it indoors through the winter.

Mediterranean Style

Mediterranean style garden. A close-up of flowering Buganvillas climbing the slate roof of a house and hanging over the white windows. Bird of paradise flowers and Pineleaf penstemon also grow in the garden.
Create a low-maintenance Mediterranean garden with drought-tolerant plants and rocky accents.

A low-maintenance, edible garden? If you live in a climate similar to Italy, France, and Spain, you can incorporate plants that prefer their soil on the drier side. This style works well in sloped areas and plenty of south-facing land.

Think romantic and airy, with varying textures and heights. Focus on greens and neutrals, with one main accent color like violet or mauve. Select a tree, perhaps an olive or fig, for your focal and work outwards. Use fragrant herbs popularly used in Mediterranean cuisine, like oregano, lavender, and rosemary that don’t require supplemental watering. Add fruits where appropriate. 

Plant your Mediterranean beauties in full sun and ensure the soil is well-draining. Surround your groups of plantings with medium-sized rocks and create pebble walkways. Add a simple seating area in the shade of the tree to increase the European vibes. 

Container Gardens

he rustic garden is full of pots with drought-tolerant plants. The pots are large, clay, of different shapes and colors. Plants such as Dracaena trifasciata, Phormium yellow wave, Aloe vera, Agave, Asparagus densiflorus, Common houseleek, Echeveria and others grow in containers.
Gardening in containers is ideal for busy individuals.

Container gardening is perfect for busy individuals who may have limited space but still want to create something beautiful. Today’s containers are eco-friendly, reusable, and well-draining. There are also irrigation systems, such as an olla or clay pot irrigation, made specifically for container gardening. 

For a more flexible xeriscape garden design, container growing has the added benefit of being able to change up the look and placement of plants fairly easily by moving containers from one place to another. The key to container growing is watering deeply but infrequently. Lined fabric bags are available in many sizes to suit your needs and colors to fit your aesthetic preference. Some are even large and deep enough to accommodate trees! 

Pro tip: Invest in watering stakes or ollas that will keep the root area aerated and slowly water plants, conserving your efforts and water as well as a water gauge to monitor water levels deep down in the containers.

Plant Drought-Tolerant Annuals

Close-up of blooming Osteospermum, commonly known as African daisies, in a sunny garden. African daisies are renowned for their vibrant and daisy-like flowers that bloom in an array of bold colors such as a combination of purple and white. Each flower boasts a prominent dark center surrounded by brightly colored petals that radiate outward. The foliage is dark green and slightly succulent.
Opt for hardy annuals for low-commitment gardening with self-seeding properties.

Many perennials don’t love being dug up and transplanted to a new location, and gardeners have a hard time choosing a spot for them. Others may just not be ready to commit to long-living perennials. If this sentiment resonates with you, you may enjoy working with drought-tolerant and hardy annuals.   

Selecting annuals that readily self-seed will make it feel like you have low-effort perennials. When fallen seeds are left in place, new plants will sprout the following spring and may even naturalize an unused area of your garden. Letting nature do its thing is a unique and low-maintenance way of creating a unique annual garden. 

Pro tip: Annual plants that readily drop seeds are good candidates for winter sowing. Winter-sown plants are thought to be more resilient overall.

Low-Maintenance Perennials

Close-up of flowering salvia in a garden with mulched soil. Salvia is characterized by its aromatic foliage and vibrant, tubular flowers of a rich blue-purple hue. The leaves are lance-shaped, with a velvety texture and a green hue. The flowers grow in spikes that rise above the foliage.
Native perennials thrive with minimal care, perfect for low-maintenance landscaping.

Columbine and beardtongue and salvia, oh my! Countless perennials require little attention, thrive in hot, dry climates, and even provide winter beauty with attractive seed pods, pops of color, or evergreen foliage. 

Perennials are often used in landscaping because they’re low-maintenance by nature, requiring less water and human interaction. Locally native perennials are even better because they are adapted to your region’s soil and weather. Many of them are easy to start from seed and some do well in shady areas.

Mix Annuals with Perennials 

View of a xeriscape garden with annuals and perennials. The flower bed grows such drought-resistant plants as bright yellow yarrows, California poppies, Larkspur, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Nepeta Faassenii, Daffodils.
Rotate annuals yearly for varied colors and pair with grasses and shrubs.

There’s no reason you can’t change it up each year by incorporating different colors, shapes, and heights of annuals. If you don’t want to be tied down to the same look every year, add bright zinnia mixes, new sunflower hybrids, or a new type of snapdragon. 

Ornamental grasses, yucca plants, and shrubs pair well with brightly colored annuals to make a xeriscape garden design stand out. Intentional placement and installation of efficient drip irrigation will allow you to change up the look and feel of your landscape each season. 

Pro tip: Remove any seeds left behind when your plants go to seed. Discard them or dry them for later use.

Create a Beautiful and Beneficial Pollinator Garden

Close-up of bee collects honey on yarrow flowers. Yarrow is characterized by its feathery, fern-like foliage and clusters of small, dainty white flowers. The leaves are finely divided. The flowers grow on tall, slender stems, rising above the foliage in flat-topped clusters, creating a whimsical and airy display.
Plant a pollinator garden with easy-to-grow perennials like yarrow and monarda.

A xeriscape garden design is incomplete without resources for local pollinators. A pollinator garden is a beautiful, eco-friendly, and wildlife-supportive act of kindness. Many flowers that attract native pollinators and beneficial insects are also easy-to-grow perennials. Is this a coincidence, or was it designed by nature? I think the latter…

Milkweed, monarda, yarrow, and calendula are just a few amazing flowers you can add to a pollinator garden. They offer endless blooms, don’t need support, endure poor soils, and don’t mind long periods without water. If you’re unsure of what to mix, most seed companies do it for you. Look for a wildflower seed mix that aligns with your zone. Ensure the species are native and drought-tolerant. 

If you decide against a mix and like the idea of color blocking, pick your favorites and plant them in mass, varying the colors. This is sure to be a conversation starter among backyard barbeque guests. 

Make a Rain Garden 

Close-up of a rain garden. In the garden there are two flowerpots with succulent plants and one barrel filled with rainwater. Above the barrel of rainwater hangs a chain gutter, also known as a rain chain. In one of the flowerpots there is Chlorophytum comosum, and in the other flowerpot there are succulents such as Graptopetalum Paraguayense and Aloe.
Design a self-watering rain garden with proper slope and plant placement.

Xeriscape garden design and rain gardens go hand-in-hand. You can save irrigation water while maximizing the impact of any water that falls from the sky. A rain garden uses water collected from your house, sheds, and other infrastructure. It is an eco-friendly and innovative way to water your plants.

Take the time to analyze the proper slope and location of your rain garden before installing it. With some readily available home improvement supplies, your rain garden will eventually water itself because the rain accumulates in lower-lying areas, seeping slowly into the soil below. This allows you to select a wider range of plants, ranging from drought-tolerant to those preferring average to moist soil. 

Position plants based on how much water they require and the distance from the water source. For example, place the more drought-tolerant plants higher up on the slope because the water won’t be settling there, and keep the more moisture-loving plants further downhill so their roots can take advantage of the rainwater. 

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Alternatively, you can add a closed-loop water feature like a pond to your garden. Water features add a tranquil effect to the space, provide hydration for birds, and help conserve water. Add an oxygenator to prevent algae buildup. 

Pro tip: Check with your local National Resources Conservation Service agent and ask about applicable rain garden grants.

Ditch the Turf

Close-up of a male farmer removing the lawn with cultivator in a sunny garden. The man is wearing a bright blue jumpsuit. The cultivator removes the lawn, leaving behind plowed black loose soil.
Replace traditional lawns with eco-friendly alternatives.

Xeriscape garden designs never include regular lawns. Why? Traditional turf lawns are known for their inefficient use of water and inability to host vital insects, making them a waste of water and energy. Plus, it takes a lot of input to maintain a well-manicured lawn. Instead, you can design a xeriscape garden with lawn alternatives that practically take care of themselves.

Reasons to ditch the turf include:

  • More room to grow food
  • Attract native wildlife and pollinators
  • Less time manicuring, treating, and mowing
  • More time to enjoy your garden
  • Branch out and be different. Grass is out. Conserving resources is in!
  • Use less water and chemicals

If you’re committed to the main ideologies of dry gardening, but not quite ready to give up the green, consider adding fescues and drought-tolerant, eco-friendly lawn alternatives. Look for options that are considered to be “no-mow.”

Incorporate Concrete Pavers 

Close-up of a drought-tolerant garden with a path made of large concrete blocks and tiles. Between these blocks, the flower bed grows such plants as Stonecrop ‘Autumn Joy’, Carex flacca, Ligustro Arbustivo Variegado, and others.
Pavers add sophistication, allow rainwater drainage, and prevent weeds.

Concrete pavers will immediately add sophistication to your landscape, inviting garden guests to take a walk around. They’re water-permeable, so rain will seep through rather than puddling or flooding. 

Adding pavers to your space alleviates the need to sow a lawn alternative. Plus, they’re fairly cheap and won’t break the bank like some backyard stones might. 

Select trailing ground cover species like phlox, thyme, and speedwell and plug them into the space between pavers for an intentionally wild look that keeps weeds at bay. 

Get Wild

Close-up of Black-eyed Susan, Cnidium Monnieri and Liatris spicata in bloom in a sunny garden. Black-eyed Susans are characterized by their striking daisy-like flowers with dark brown centers surrounded by bright yellow petals. Cnidium monnieri plant features finely divided, fern-like leaves that grow in a basal rosette formation. Rising from the center of this foliage are erect, slender stems adorned with small clusters of tiny white flowers, each consisting of five petals.
Sow perennial wildflower mixes for a low-maintenance, vibrant garden that attracts pollinators.

If you’re unsure what to do with your drought-prone garden, there is a wide range of perennial wildflower mixes you can easily toss out on a hillside. You can always change your mind and mow them down later! 

Most mixes include a mix of low-maintenance and wildly beneficial flowers like lupine, black-eyed Susans, coneflower, poppies, and Shasta daisies. Always bursting with bright colors and buzzing with life, wildflowers will not disappoint.

A bonus of densely sowing native wildflowers around your property is the amount of pollinators and birds they’ll attract. If you grow vegetables, this will increase pollination rates tremendously! 


View of a mulched Xeriscape garden. The soil is completely covered with a layer of bark mulch. The flowerbed includes plants such as Catmint, Flame Willow, salix purpurea 'nana and Fire Spinner Ice Plant.
Mulching conserves moisture, suppresses weeds, and enriches soil fertility.

Spreading mulch is a great way to get multiple benefits from one product. When newly laid out, mulch helps retain moisture, protect plant crowns, and decrease weed pressure. The layers of soil coverage give everything a finished look. 

Popular and effective mulches include compost, woodchips, organic straw, leaves, and pine needles. As these materials break down, they add fertility to the soil. Each has pros and cons, including visual appeal, cost, and the decomposition rate. When searching for a xeriscape mulch, consider these factors. 

Pro tip: While compost isn’t the most attractive mulch option, making your own is a great way to reduce household scraps and reduce waste.

Create a Bulbing Area 

Close-up of blooming daffodils and tulips in a sunny autumn garden. Daffodils are renowned for their iconic trumpet-shaped flowers in bright yellow. Each flower features a trumpet-shaped corona surrounded by six petal-like tepals. The flowers rise on sturdy, hollow stems amidst slender, grass-like foliage. Yellow and red tulips bloom on a blurred background.
Start xeriscaping with low-effort bulbs, providing colorful and pollinator-friendly blooms.

If you’re new to xeriscaping and want to start small, start simple with bulbs. They’re readily available and require very little effort. Plant them in the fall, surround the area with small pebbles, and call it a day. In the spring, hardy daffodils, tulips, and ornamental alliums will add splashes of color after a long winter. 

Choose cultivars that indicate their love for full sun, adaptability, and tolerance of various soil types. These blooms brighten up your spring landscape and provide an early food source for local pollinators, especially native ones. Some bulbs will naturalize areas, and last for many years whereas others need to be replaced after three to five years. 

Use Succulents 

Close-up on a succulent garden. Aloe vanbalenii, Curio repens, Coprosma virescens, and Orange Mesembryanthemum grow in the flowerbed. The soil is covered with fine gravel. The edges of Aloe and Mesembryanthemum leaves have a reddish tint due to sun exposure.
Explore diverse options beyond succulents for colorful xeriscapes.

Succulents may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about dry gardening, but as promised, there are lots of other options. That said, succulents are an amazing option for xeriscapes with lots of colors, sizes, and types to choose between, some even thrive in cool climates

For a vibrant pop of violet with the benefits of a succulent, incorporate ice plants. Pollinators love them, and they have a unique shape. Houseleek is one of my personal favorites for its hot pink tips and tolerance of cold weather. Select zebra cactus for a unique partial sun option. Add show-stopping aloe plants in the background of colorful annuals. The possibilities are endless! 

Have a rock garden? Succulents will make a great addition as they love dry, rocky soil. Water them well until they’re fully established. 

How to Xeriscape on a Budget

Getting started can be intimidating, but getting creative and using connections can help save you money, now and in the long run. 

Design Your Xeriscape

View of a beautiful xeriscape landscape garden with blooming roses and flowers. The flower bed contains Ramblin' Red Rose, Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low', Lavender, Genista lydia and Festuca glauca. Genista lydia is a deciduous shrub characterized by its slender, arching branches adorned with small, pea-like yellow flowers that bloom profusely. Red rose bushes climb up the side of the house.
Designing your xeriscape saves money and offers personal satisfaction.

There is no need to hire professional landscapers for a dry garden installation. Designing your xeriscape will not only save you money, but it will be more rewarding in the end. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting in a backyard oasis that you thought up, paid for, and completed with your own hands!

Make Mulch or Search For Free Sources

Close-up of a woman in white gloves mulching the soil with bark chips in a sunny garden. Bark chips, also known as bark mulch, are small pieces of bark derived from various tree species such as pine, cedar, or cypress.
Be cautious of free mulch sources and consider DIY options instead.

If you’ve ever heard of the saying, “beware of the free pony,” it’s relevant here. If you see a sign for free mulch, I would be cautious of what it may contain. But if a gardening friend or local business is giving out samples or is trying to get rid of a surplus, inquiring won’t hurt. 

Reputable sources for free mulch include local arborists (hello wood chips!) and neighboring organic farms. If you can’t find a trusted source or want to go the DIY route, make your own mulch using raked leaves, bark from fallen trees, and pine needles

Focus on Soil Health 

Close-up of gardener's hands holding soil against the background of soil in the garden. The soil is moist, brown with fine gravel.
Prioritize soil fertility with annual testing and necessary amendments.

Make soil fertility a top priority so everything you plant will thrive. Soil test every year and amend as necessary. After a time, microorganisms in the soil will increase, inputs will decrease, and a continuous loop of soil feeding the plants and plants feeding the soil will begin. Healthy soil with high levels of organic matter is much better at holding onto water. More water retention means less irrigation and more drought tolerance!

Ask Around For Plant Divisions or Cuttings 

Root division propagation concept. Close-up of several young bare-root Agave Vilmoriniana Marginata seedlings in a gray tray with dry soil and a garden trowel. There are empty black pots, orange gloves and gardening tools on the tiles.
Acquire plants inexpensively by asking friends or gardening clubs.

Don’t get overwhelmed at the cost of new plants. Once you’ve done research and decided on the types of plants you’re looking for, ask friends, gardening clubs, and neighbors if they are willing to divide plants for you. Ask questions and only take plants from reputable sources to ensure you’re not bringing in diseases or unwanted nematodes. 

Budget Xeriscaping Tips

  • Use local extension resources to find the right plants for your climate
  • Use plants that bring you joy
  • Plant natives!
  • Look for plants and seeds that align with your soil type, zone, and sun exposure
  • Consider wildlife and native pollinators
  • Invest labor up-front for a long-lasting, low-maintenance, eco-friendly xeriscape
  • Propagate plants from neighbors and garden clubs

Final Thoughts

Xeriscaping is a method of gardening that focuses on conserving natural resources by growing natives, supporting wildlife, and eliminating high-maintenance turf. Work with native plants and your natural landscape to create a more eco-friendly garden that saves water and allows more time for enjoyment. 

Seed-sowing tips. Close-up of several starting trays with young seedlings on a wooden table. There is also a plastic glass on the table with several sticks for labeling.


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