Top 10 Reasons to Convert to Xeriscape

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Maintaining an attractive and healthy lawn is not easy in our desert climate. While Bermuda grass, our summer-active turf is drought and heat tolerant; it still requires a great deal of time and energy to keep it looking good. If a year-round green lawn is desired, winter ryegrass needs to be seeded each fall, creating more work and requiring more resources to maintain it properly.

Understandably, converting from grass to Xeriscape can be a big decision for homeowners, businesses, and communities. But, don't be concerned that Xeriscape is just rocks and cactus. There are hundreds of varieties of low water use plants that bring color, beauty, and function to the landscape. Xeriscape is common sense landscaping incorporating principles such as good planning, use of well-adapted plants, efficient irrigation, use of water saving mulches and more.

While it does require some 'up front' money to convert grass to Xeriscape, it will save dollars in the long run. The costs can vary greatly depending on existing conditions and desired landscape changes. Estimates for a conversion might run you as little as $1.50 a square foot for just grass kill and topping with granite, but for a more extensive design, scraping off turf, grading and more, a typical range would be more like $2.50 and upwards of $5 a square foot. However, when looking at extra costs required for turf, such as water, fertilizer, mower upkeep, overseeding and other maintenance activities, you'll realize about a 40-cent per square foot savings each year... and that doesn't include time or labor. With this in mind, you would have a payback within 4 to 7 years...not bad at all considering all of the benefits. If you're still looking for more reasons to convert here are my...

Top Ten Reasons

  1. Save Time - Grass will need mowing once every week or two. Fertilizing should be done monthly. Mowers, weed whackers, and irrigation require maintenance. Dethatching and aerating are also needed periodically. Overseeding is very time intensive. Don't forget to add weed, disease and pest control to your schedule.

  2. Save Water - Bermuda and ryegrass require about 60 inches of water each year, but we average only 8 inches of rainfall each year. Typically, the additional water gets applied with above ground sprinkler systems that are often inefficient, prone to vandalism, and mismanaged. Getting ryegrass seed to germinate requires watering three times a day or more, and water suppliers always notice spikes in water usage during the months of October and November when winter rye is planted. In comparison, a Xeriscape uses one-half to two-thirds LESS water than a lawn.

  3. Preserve Water Quality & Save Energy - Less or even no fertilizers and pesticides are needed with Xeriscape. Much of our water pollution comes from runoff of these products from urban landscapes. Xeriscapes also provide great energy saving benefits. A lawn has been shown to reduce home cooling requirements as much as 4 percent compared to a home with no vegetation cover. However, a Xeriscape with good tree, shrub and vine placement can cut cooling costs up to 46 percent.

  4. Save Money - Save on the cost of water, fertilizer, mowing, seed, and labor. Other costs that often aren't considered include water damage to walls, private streets, and mower damage to trees or the irrigation system. Homeowners may see additional savings in their wastewater charges since those are based on total water usage. Additional savings can come from the lower energy bills when plants are placed strategically around buildings.

  5. Save Landfill Space - Grass clippings create a great deal of waste for the landfills. When ryegrass is seeded, the summer lawn is scalped creating a large amount of initial waste, and mower clippings continue through winter and spring.

  6. Save the Air - Two-cycle engines such as gas powered mowers, blowers and weed trimmers contribute to our air pollution problems. Additionally, the scalping process used during overseeding releases dust and other particles into the air.

  7. Decrease Noise Pollution - Mowers, weed whackers, and leaf blowers have become a major source of background noise in many neighborhoods. The drone of lawn equipment contributes to an already noisy world.

  8. Set an Example - One good conversion begets another... you'll by surprised by the inspiration you can provide to your neighbors. If you look to the future and respect our desert environment, this is an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to using our natural resources wisely.

  9. Save Frustration - Common problems include fertilizer issues, dead spots caused by diseases, and constant upkeep and maintenance of irrigation, especially when vandalism or mower damage is common. Plus, you'll be mowing during the hottest part of summer when Bermuda grows best.

And the number one reason to convert from lawn to Xeriscape ...
  1. No More Mowing - This is your chance ... how many parts of the country are there where you can totally get away with not having a lawn?!

Here's how to convert:

The key to a successful conversion is to thoroughly kill the grass in the area you want to convert. This helps minimize maintenance issues in the future. Apply any contact herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate directly on the grass. This may require two or more applications, which should be done about one to two weeks apart. The best time to kill the grass is in the late summer, when the grass is actively growing. Watering the grass to green it up will also increase the herbicide's effectiveness. Be careful not to spray the plants you've decided to keep. 

Once your grass is dead, you have three choices. First, you can scalp the grass close to the ground. The second option is to rototill the area. Rototill when the soil is slightly damp, so the machine's teeth dig deep into the soil. You may want to rake the grass roots from the dirt after rototilling to help prevent them from rejuvenating. The third option, which is the most effective, is to remove three or four inches of dead grass with a tractor or sod cutter. Both pieces of equipment can be rented or you may want to hire a landscape professional, depending on the amount of grass you are removing.

While it does take a bit of work to remove your grass, the water saving benefits can be significant.  It requires 35,000 gallons per year to properly water 1,000 sq feet of turf, while low water use plants use only 15,000 gallons for the same amount of space. And maintenance will be easier, too. 

Take advantage of Mesa's new Grass-to-Xeriscape Rebate Program that encourages the use of landscape plants appropriate to our Sonoran Desert climate. The current owner of a single-family home can apply for a rebate of $500 for removing at least 500 square feet of grass.