Xeriscaping is form of landscaping intended to reduce water and fertilizer consumption. Slow-growing, drought tolerant species are introduced alongside of indigenous vegetation already accustomed to the annual rainfall levels of a particular area. This eliminates the need to water the landscape daily, and it saves on water resources and the costs of water usage. Fertilizer use is also eliminated by the slow-growth of flora that are used to thriving in harsh conditions and need little pampering from human hands to gain a foothold in a cultivated environment.


Xeriscaping was first developed in the western United States, where limited water resources in California called for conservation measures even at the household level of society. Since then, it has spread to every region of the country for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is the conservation not of water, but of natural ecosystems themselves. This is particularly true in temperate and humid climates that suffer high levels of pollution directly tied to the fertilizers and pesticides used by lawn services (not to be confused with professional landscapers.)

It may surprise some to learn that fertilizers can be just as bad for the environment as pesticides. This is because they are made for garden plants and have a chemical constitution that is toxic to almost wild plants. Pesticides, which are also toxic by nature, kill birds, fish, and wildlife almost as frequently as they do pests. When plants treated with these chemicals are constantly trimmed, the waste matter from garden plants now becomes a biohazard. If they are dumped behind buildings or ditches as they are by many lawn care services, this only creates a toxic dump that the next rain will subsequently spread throughout the city.

In such an environment, Xeriscaping with extremely slow-growth indigenous plants is often the key to ending pollution once and for all. Native plants have evolved resistance to native pests and do not require chemical treatment to survive. If slow-growth plants are carefully selective from the surrounding flora rather than being imported from exotic locales, it is conceivable that lawns and gardens could then be developed that no longer needed to rely upon chemical treatments and trimming by lawn service workers.

While it may not be immediately obvious, Xeriscaping could offer a city such as Houston an entirely new landscape using plant material carefully selected from the old! The Gulf Coast was not an ugly place when settlers arrived. The city has simply grown so quickly that much of the native beauty of this part of the world has been built over and covered up. Most of us are so busy that we drive over bridges every day without even realizing that we actually live in the floodplain of a very complex and intricate system of bayous. These bayous have suffered greatly from chemical pollution, and many native fish, bird, and animal species have all but disappeared from our back yards. Think about the last time you saw a box turtle or horned lizard in your back yard the way you did 30 years ago. Such occurrences are rare—if not gone altogether— in many of our neighborhoods because of lawn services that use inordinately toxic chemicals and dispose irresponsibly of grass and plant clippings.

While some Houstonians may hesitate to try Xeriscaping for fear that their yards would lose their aesthetic, the options for attractive landscapes are by no means limited or inferior to traditional forms. There are countless species native to Texas that can be used that will minimize the need for fertilizer use and weekly lawn service without sacrificing beauty in the process. These plants can be used in the same landscaping designs that are already popular. Parterre gardens, knot gardens, French gardens, and Italian gardens can all be Xeriscaped just as much as they can be landscaped.

Xeriscaping in Houston could lead to such a drastic reduction in pesticide use that could restore clean water conditions to our bayou system and help contribute to a resurgence of fish, amphibian, and bird populations in places like the Arboretum and the Edith L. Moore Nature Preserve. For a city that is now striving to upgrade its status from that of an energy capital to a world-class city of business and eclectic lifestyle, doesn’t it make sense to consider changing the way we think about our landscapes and taking a more proactive role in blending our aesthetics with those already around us?