Xeriscaping California: Low water plants that don't spread?

LambOfTartarySeptember 9, 2012

We're xeriscaping our lawn and don't really trust our current landscaper to put in the right plants. He's more concerned with aesthetics, but we keep emphasizing practicality. We're paying $8 a square foot for conversion, not including the removal of the old lawn, possibly another $2500 for an 800sq foot lawn.

Our concern is that a lot of low water plants seem to spread like crazy. Our yard currently has a lot of these invasive plants like bermuda grass, ice plants, running bamboo, and asparagus ferns. The yard was put in by the previous owner and while it looks super green (despite us having never watered it) it is a nightmare to maintain because everything grows like crazy.

I have googled some low water, non-invasive plants but we also want low maintenance. These need to be plants that someone with a brown thumb can maintain without the use of heavy machinery. I have shears, a branch trimmer, and recently learned the joys of a weed whacker.

Any help is greatly appreciated!

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Your observation about low water use plants spreading like crazy says a lot about how ubiquitous things like iceplant are in CA...

All you have to do is steer away from all those things with spreading rhizomes, of which you happened to mention the big ones.

Clumping bamboo, bunching ornamental grasses, cacti, agaves, euphorbias and other African succulents, and most dryland trees, shrubs and perennials would fit the bill fine.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 3:05PM
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Haha yes, now that we're looking into this I can't help but see these plants everywhere. A lot of the commercial places around here use iceplant for ground cover, the supermarket, the bank, the post office...

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 6:56PM
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I'd say if your landscaper is not going to do what you want he is not the right person for you. We have several types of gardens. We have some areas of mostly shade through areas of mostly sun. The choices we make have more to do with the amount if sun than anything else.

Where you plant your trees and how big they are will influence what will work. Do the research. There are lots of plants that do not spread. What are you going to put In between your plants that don't spread?

if you don't want plants that don't spread then make it clear to your landscaper. But beware there will be plants that will grow in between those non spreading plants. Lovely spreading weeds will grow even in compacted decomposed granite.

The use of heavy duty plant mats will slow down weeds. What are you going to put over the ugly matting? I have seen bark, gorrilla fiber, nut shells and other stuff to stop weeds. None work for long periods. They also get crappy looking after a few years.

Most plants will spread somehow. It's how they survive. Every plant will need some type of trimming. By the way, are you killing everything in the garden areas before you plant anything?

If not everything you don't want will grow back. The best low or no maintenance yard I have seen is cactus and rocks. One plant every ten feet is all you need.

Good luck. Keep posting on your progress. I learn so much from here.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2012 at 1:39AM
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Thanks for the detailed replay PaSegal.

Our lawn gets pretty much all sun except for one corner where there is a tree (that we're keeping.) Under the tree it's semi-shaded, bermuda grass still grows there so I assume it's sunny enough, lol.

We don't want anymore trees because it's a small yard and it'd be claustrophobic if we added more. It's 800 sq yards mostly in one little 21ft strip that borders our patio. Unless they were small trees that stayed small and thin, it'd be too much. Plus, tree trimming is probably more advanced lawn care than I can handle.

We've told the landscaper what we want but he has a vision. So far we have worked something out but he has remarked to me on more than one occasion that if he "sees something he likes" he'll just have to break out and buy it -- with my money, no less. But he is very experienced and seems to know his stuff.

We have talked to 6 different companies and only two have made the cut. Either because they are way, way too expensive or they are not experienced enough (lawn maintenance guys trying to be landscapers who have no idea that there is such a thing as xericaping.)

The second landscaping company we like more but we're afraid what they're proposing won't be enough to kill the lawn. They want to spray Roundup once, dig and remove the top 6 inches, then put down a pre-emergent called Snapshot Granular. Everything I've read about the kind of invasive plants we have has mentioned how hard they are to kill (bermuda, in particular, that grows down feet.) I don't want to spend a bunch of money only to have this get out of control in the future.

We are putting down mulch between the plants but no landscaping fabric. Landscaping guy #1 says it never works and if the bermuda comes back it'll just grow underneath causing an even bigger problem later. Better to spray it as it comes through. Landscaping guy #2 says there's no need for fabric with the pre-emergent.

I am happy to spray the plants if weeds do emerge, but like I say, anything requiring heavy machinery is out of my league. I have already suggested Astroturf to the husband, he says it's a no go.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2012 at 5:29AM
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Ask him for his proposed plant list, and post it here.

We can tell you which ones to avoid.

Above all,

Good ones:
Leucophyllum (texas sage varieties)
hopbush (dodonea)
Any of the dahleas
the low-water Salvia species

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 7:28AM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Suggestion #1: Cross-post in the CA gardening forum.

Suggestion #2: Specify what Sunset gardening zone you are in. CA is a big state with many different climates, so you'll get better recommendations if you tell us where you are. I believe the Sunset magazine website has its zone map you can check, or you can look in a copy of the Sunset Garden Book can always be found at better nurseries.

Suggestion #3: Study the photos of designs by bahia (screen name), who is a pro landscaper in San Jose, CA. He specializes in xeric, succulent plantings, and they are unlike anything you have ever seen anywhere else - lush, colorful, and stunning.

Regarding the suggestions you received, I'm not sure what lazygardens is referring to with the word "dahleas". I have never heard of such a plant or species. Did lg mean "dahlias"? They are certainly not a xeric plant in coastal Northern CA.

I use very little water for a lavish cottage garden. But without knowing what Sunset zone you are in, a list of my recommended plants might have only limited usefulness for you.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 2:58AM
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Central_Cali369(Sunset Z9, Fresno, CA)

I too have tried to steer clear from ice plants and other very invasive low-water plants. I removed my lawn a few years ago, and now prefer to grow my own plants from seed. There is such a massive array of plants that are not available in the nursery trade, but there are a few seed vendors that will supply them. Here is a picture of the driest section of my yard.

The Artemisia receive absolutely no water and still look lush and beautiful.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 12:12AM
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