We have heard this a lot lately. Should you consider it? When putting in a new landscape or replacing an old one, considering all your options is always the best way to go. Should you choose a xeriscape in the Houston area? Probably not. We are NOT saying “don’t plant drought tolerant plants”.  Anything that can tolerate our sometimes wacky weather, is a good thing. Let’s see why xeriscaping may not be the way to go.

Will your HOA allow it? Some HOA’s have strict rules about how your yard should look or the plants that you’re allowed to use. Some even go as far as to say what type of grass you can plant. Without their permission for a variance, they could make you rip it out and then you’ll pay for 2 installations. Add, the possible court costs if you try to fight it. ALWAYS check with your HOA first.

This fact was brought to my attention this week (12/12/14). This law was enacted after I wrote this article. Although this law is simply written (what a surprise), there is still one section that needs clarification (it’s always the last paragraph of a bill or law that tells you the truth…I learned to start at the bottom of these things). Section (d-1) uses the words “unreasonably deny or withhold approval”. Ok, without a judge’s ruling, who gets to say what’s “unreasonable”…


  1. Houston is build on a bed of clay. Under normal weather, the clay is wet and does not drain. There is no way to fix or change this fact. The best you can do is to make sure that your yard drains properly (away from…not into your neighbors yard). Then build your beds up, to offer proper drainage.
  2. Houston has a high water table. Which is why the basements we do have, are called swimming pools. The high water table keeps the clay moist, from the bottom up. Many plants suitable for xeriscaping have amazing tap roots and would not be happy in the constantly moist clay.
  3. Houston averages 50 inches of water a year. Yes, 2011 has been VERY dry, but this is the exception, not the rule. A month-long rain, which does happen here, can quickly put an end to your xeriscape. Make sure that the plants that are being recommended will tolerate drought AND wet conditions.
  4. Xeriscaping does not automatically mean rocks and cactus, but many landscapers think that it does. Do your own research. You can start at  https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/xeriscape/xeriscape.html. This site lists the 7 elements that need to be addressed or considered before you undertake a xeriscape.
  5. Xeriscapes need a different approach to maintenance than traditional landscaping. A Bermuda lawn, means buying a reel mower, which can be a hefty investment in time or money. Most lawn maintenance companies don’t own one. Read about them at https://www.reelmowers.org/ .  Most lawn maintenance companies don’t know how to manage a xeriscape. So, decide if you have the time and energy to do it yourself.
  6. Instead of ripping out what you already have, consider replanting with water wise varieties as needed. Working in drought tolerant plants little by little is a good way to start. Annuals must grow quickly and use the most water. Instead of thirsty annuals, consider perennials and natives for that pop of color.
  7. Rethink your watering habits. Setting the sprinkler system and walking away is the single most wasteful way to water. Think about it this way. In your entire life, did it ever rain 5 or 7 or 10 minutes, 3 times a week?  If it rains for 5/7/10 minutes, do you even acknowledge it as a rain? We consider it a rinse, it just gets the dust off the plants. The best way to water your plants is a long, slow drink. Turn the sprinkler on and let it run until it begins to run off.  Allow each station to go through the cycle the same way. Once the entire cycle is complete, do it again…on the same day. The 1st watering gets the soil ready for the 2nd watering, which will sink in deep. This method makes the soil stay moist longer and encourages the roots of plants to be deeper. Deeply rooted plants can use the deep moisture and will not get as stressed as shallow rooted plants. Shallow roots dry out as soon as the top of the soil dries out, which means you must water more. Annuals typically have shallow roots while perennials have deeper roots.
  8.  Don’t forget your foundation. If you choose a xeriscape, you still need to keep your foundation watered. Will that bother your plantings?

The choice is not cut and dry (no pun intended). Xeriscaping is a great alternative to traditional landscaping. Is it right for most situations? Probably not. Is it right for you or Houston?  There are some definite benefits to landscaping with drought tolerant plants. This drought will not last forever and Houston will never look like Phoenix or Tucson. A little careful thought and planning can give you landscape that will stand drought and deluge.