Save Some Green

Date: July 29, 2002 Last Edit: February 25, 2016

Trim landscaping costs by going native.

Here’s a way to cut costs that’s right under your feet. Instead of spending time and money maintaining a lush green lawn surrounding your business, plant a “xeriscape” containing native plants.

Xeriscapes are drought-tolerant landscapes. Native plants are adapted to the soil, insects and climactic challenges of a given location. Put the two together, and boy, can you save money on water and mowing bills (good news after a summer of lawncare). You can start planting now and once a native landscape is mature (establishing young plants requires some time) annual maintenance can cost 80 percent less per acre than a traditional lawn, according to Chicago-based Conservation Design Forum.

Small business owners like Shel Segel love the result. He looked to native plants to landscape his Paradise Inn in Key West. An estimated 60 percent of the total landscape at his 18-room bed and breakfast is low-maintenance native. And the landscaping earns its keep by generating publicity, Segel says. “It’s been one of the premiere attractions of the place.”

Ken Cook, manager of Plant Creations, Inc., which installed Paradise Inn’s vegetation, has noticed increasing requests for native plants over the years.

Native xeriscapes in Loretto, Minn., mean prairie, which is what Prairie Restorations, Inc., installed at the corporate headquarters of Shingobee Builders, Inc.

“It’s quite beautiful,” says Shingobee’s CEO and founder Gae Veit, “as we are presented with a variety of wildflowers blooming at different times. There’s always a magnificent display of color!”

Prairies, like all xeriscapes, require a few years to put down roots. When mature, prairies require no watering besides rainfall, no fertilizing and only one annual mowing. That saves time and money. Prairie Restorations estimates that annual professional maintenance for an acre of turf costs $800-$1,200 vs. $500 for an acre of prairie.

Additional savings can come from water bill rebates in some cities. The Los Altos Christian Church in Albuquerque, N.M., is eligible for a $700 rebate the city pays to commercial customers who install city-approved xeriscapes, because Albuquerque averages a mere 6″-12″ of precipitation annually.

If you’re hesitant to replace all your turf at once, try xeriscaping a slope that’s hard to mow, or the area farthest from your spigot. Shingobee Builders’ prairie abuts grass, and Veit says, “they complement each other quite well.”

If you simply must have turf, do your wallet – and our country’s diminishing water supply – a favor by choosing a drought-tolerant variety that’s native to your region. Buffalograss, for example, grows well in Austin, Texas, and only needs mowing once or twice annually.

Bottom line? Less green around your building puts more green in your pocket.

Article by Janet Cass

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  • Your local university’s departments of landscape architecture and horticulture may be inexpensive sources of xeriscape planning/installation if you allow supervised student field work on your property.
  • Find what’s native to your area at your local arboretum.
  • Water infrequently but deeply, to encourage plants to grow long roots, which promote drought tolerance.
  • Group thirstiest plants close to a water supply to reduce time spent walking to water them.
  • Get rid of weeds cheaply by smothering them with old carpet or plastic. Once weed roots die, remove smothering material and plant natives.

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