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You Can Grow It: Saving water with xeriscaping

Jim Duthie takes to a home in North Boise where the owners got rid of their lawn and made some big changes to their yard.

BOISE, Idaho — There’s a growing trend in Southwest Idaho in using native plants in landscapes around homes and businesses. It’s called xeriscaping, and the benefits include conserving water, attracting wildlife and reducing maintenance.

We go back a couple of years to a home in North Boise, where the residents decided to xeriscape their yard in order to save time and water, and to reflect the natural environment of Southwest Idaho.

Pat and Andy Acks are typical Treasure Valley homeowners. For years they had a green lawn just like everybody else in their neighborhood. But that all changed when they decided to xeriscape. 

“Well, we wanted to get rid of lawn.”

“And so we wanted something that was more water-sparing.”

Here in Southwest Idaho, we get the four seasons, but it’s also a high desert, and so planting native plants, saving water and xeriscaping makes a lot of sense.

Xeriscaping doesn’t mean you don’t ever have to water. It means landscaping and gardening in a way that uses less water, while still having an attractive yard.

The Acks called Dale Donahue of Desert Design for some ideas.

“And so we came up with a plan, and this is the result of the plan.”

That plan replaced their lawn with plants that are native to our area, getting by on less water, but still providing interest and beauty.

“Every time I look at it I just feel so thrilled.”

“Next year, this is going to really be… I mean, as great as it is now, it’s going to be super amazing next year.”

Donahue spent several years in Arizona, studying and working with desert plants and ecosystems, before returning to Idaho to specialize in xeriscape designs.

“We live in a desert. We need to live with it. If you do then you can enjoy it better, I think.”

And Southwest Idaho is a desert, receiving under ten inches of rainfall each year, including parts of the Treasure Valley.

“It is one of the best desert regions in the world, and yet we’re not paying much attention to it.”

The first step in xeriscape design is to understand the location.

“Study the site. What is the ground like? What’s the environment like?”

“And you meet with your clients and figure out exactly what they want.”

“And then you do the design, keeping in mind all the different plants you can use.”

“And then you begin your gathering of materials.”

Including natural soil and rocks, as well as doing a little recycling.

“Those are actually stepping stones that we had that were falling apart. They were starting to disintegrate, so he helped them along with a big four-pound maul. We sat with a hammer and busted them all up.”

Native plants in this landscape include purple sage and beavertail cactus, as well as other drought-resistant plants, like the red yucca and the desert willow.

“There’s various kinds of plants like the penstemon, the Indian blanket flowers. Almost all this stuff is native, but we don’t use them in our gardens much.”

A dry creek bed collects runoff when it rains, and it worked very well during a recent downpour. The water gushed off the roof and was carried by the streambed through the yard and out into the street.

“It’ll get by on that water for the rest of the year.”

So what do Pat and Andy’s neighbors think of their new yard?

“They didn’t like it before it was done. They weren’t really happy about it. Because part of what we did was put black plastic over the whole front yard to kill the grass. And then there was a big dirt pile, so that wasn’t too attractive. So this is a vast improvement on that. I think they’re quite impressed.”

So if you want to save water and spend less time maintaining your yard, Pat Acks says xeriscaping would be a good option for you.

“I would say go for it.”

“It’s kind of an adventure. It’s a lot of fun. And so I’m just looking forward to seeing how it’s going to develop over the years.”

As the population of the Treasure Valley grows, and as water becomes more of an issue, xeriscaping is becoming more popular.

If you’re interested in learning more about xeriscaping and water-wise garden designs, you can reach Dale at idahodesert2@centurylink.net

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