In the Southwest, lawns are a common sight, but maintaining one can be costly and requires a great amount of water to stay healthy. Due to a decades-long drought, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has mandated turf removal in commercial properties, HOAs, and multi-family developments where it is used for aesthetics, rather than recreational purposes.
When replacing grass, desert residents do not need to forgo beauty and greenery as there are many plant options that have low-water requirements or that can be maintained on a drip irrigation system. A great option for lawn alternatives are ground covers, as they have low-water requirements and can provide a similar look as grass. Ground cover options include Ice Plant varieties, Australian Racer, Creeping Rosemary & Thyme, Prostrate Germander, Trailing Magenta Vinca, Outback Sunrise Emu, Lantana, and Dichondra Clover.
For shady areas, Dichondra Clover is a beautiful option. This clover variety can act as a barrier between the tree’s roots and the sun’s rays, helping to regulate root temperatures and retain water near the root system. To ensure a bountiful cover of Dichondra, it is important to properly prepare the seedbed. To do so, loosen the soil and rake it free of any debris or weeds. Dichondra seeds will germinate best in moist, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter, so be sure to amend the planting area prior to laying seed. Once the area is prepared, scatter the seeds thinly over the surface of the soil and water gently until they are evenly moistened. Depending on conditions such as temperature and sunlight, you may need to water multiple times per day until sprouts appear (within 7 to 14 days).
To ensure optimal growth conditions for your Dichondra seeds, it is best to plant when daytime temperatures are in the low 70 degrees. In our desert climate, we typically see these temperatures in Spring and Fall. Once established, Dichondra only requires deep, infrequent watering and can tolerate periods of drought fairly well. For best results, allow the soil to dry out between watering sessions. When choosing Dichondra for ground cover, be sure to only plant in an area with morning sun and afternoon shade, as it won’t grow well with prolonged exposure to our desert sun.
For areas with increased amounts of sunlight, Ice Plant varieties such as Desert Ice, Cherry Sunrise, and Rocky Point are great ground cover options. If planting during the Fall season, be sure to establish the plant before the first winter freeze arrives. During Summer, water deeply on low output irrigation once a week to mimic rain patterns in South Africa (where it originates from). In Fall, decrease watering to prepare for Winter. A decrease in water will allow the plant to harden and better survive freezing temperatures. If exposed to extreme cold temperatures your Ice Plant may die back. If this happens trim the plant to ground level, and it should return in Spring with its cheerful, yellow blooms.
Other great full-sun ground cover options include Australian Racer, Creeping Rosemary, Prostrate Germander, Outback Sunrise Emu, and Lantana! When planting ground covers in an area with high foot traffic, you can keep the area beautiful, yet functional by creating a pathway with step stones.
Making the transition from lawn to a desert-friendly yard is easier than ever. The SNWA offers a rebate of $3 per sqft of grass removed and replaced with desert landscaping. Gardeners can save with an additional rebate for installing a smart irrigation system, which will save water in your yard and money on your monthly bill. To save at checkout, bring your SNWA Xeriscaping Rebate form for up to 50% off when purchasing your smart irrigation controller at Star Nursery. For more information, visit the Southern Nevada Water Authority website.
Living in a desert environment has its challenges, but it does not mean you must sacrifice beauty or comfort. Taking the time to find which ground cover works for you can be a gratifying and rewarding experience.