Free xeriscape plants — or how to landscape as cheaply as possible

Design ideas

Xeriscape doesn’t have to be expensive. A xeriscape landscape can be cheaper to build and maintain than a regular landscape. Do you want to change your landscape but have no money? Well, you may be surprised at how much you can do for free. Try these ideas.

Check craigslist

freelandscaperock

typical photo for free landscape rock

Craigslist has a free section where you can find landscape rock regularly. If one ad doesn’t provide enough for your project, you can collect a few types and try mixing them before spreading. Be aware that if you mix multiple types you will never be able to buy more that will match. That might not be a big deal as landscape rock tends to sink into the dirt over the years and you can add rock on top that is similar in color with no problem.

cactusforfree

Prickly pear, cholla, and agave — all easy to take starts from for a free cactus

You can also get free plants on craigslist. Prickly pear can be propagated easily. One free prickly pear plant on craigslist can provide enough starts for your yard. If you make prickly pear the major theme plant of your landscape, you may complete your entire landscape for free.

I don’t recommend trying to move a mature tree or saguaro cactus. Mature trees are too large to move without construction equipment. You will only be killing it and providing free tree removal. Moving saguaro requires permits, so even a “free” saguaro isn’t really free because you need to hire a saguaro moving company to get it to your yard.

Be creative

Do friends or neighbors have a mature landscape? Chances are they have volunteer plants they could give to you.

baby_palo_verde

this baby palo verde is about three years old and still only about three feet high

Many agaves make pups that can be dug and replanted. Texas sage bushes sometimes have small seedling bushes growing around their roots. Grasses can be divided into smaller clumps. Baby creosote bushes can be transplanted if you are careful to not disturb their roots.

I have also transplanted seedling palo verdes and mesquites. If you truly have no money and want trees, these will work. But in my opinion they are not worth the effort because they take so long to reach mature size.

Keep it simple

Xeriscape allows you to leave a large percentage of your yard empty while still achieving a landscaped look. If you can’t afford to buy a large variety of plants, do something interesting with a mass planting of one kind of plant that is easy to get for free.

Creosote and cholla can be grown without an irrigation system. Consider going ultra-low water and designing a landscape that doesn’t need an irrigation system. For a mass planting, grasses especially look modern. Try a row of grasses with a few clumps of prickly pear.

Mexican feather grass planted in a row for a modern look.

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Baby cacti don’t like sun!

Cactus care

In my last post, I mentioned setting my baby cacti out in the sun. Mistake! Those babies got sunburned.

baby cactus sunburn

Poor baby!

I decided that I just can’t take them from shade to full sun. I moved them from the south porch to the north porch where they’ll remain in full shade all winter. When I’m ready to try again, I’m going to put them under a tree with at least moderate shade. I’ll have to make sure it’s somewhere I’ll still remember to water them on schedule. When I plant them out in the yard (hopefully by next spring), I’ll either plant them in shade or cover them with shade cloth.

The point of buying baby cacti is not to kill them! I want them to go into my landscape design.

Which cacti are cheap?

Plants

Quick answer: None.

Cacti grow slowly, making them more expensive to cultivate. Optimal growing conditions for a cactus are temperatures of 80 degrees (F) and adequate (but not too much) water. One nursery I visited has a giant swamp cooler for it’s green houses to maintain the temperature at optimum growing through the summer.

Cute baby prickly pear

Answer #2: Small ones.

If you buy small cacti, they are cheaper than large ones. Be smart–buy more small cacti and take good care of them and within a few years they will be as big as the larger ones for sale. I recently found some barrel cacti in four inch pots at a nursery for only $4.25! Anything under $10 is a good price.

Answer #3: Ones that propagate easily.

Prickly pear are cheaper than other cacti because it is easy to make new plants. Some agaves also make pups (baby plants) that grow out from the roots. Agaves that do this are cheaper than ones that don’t. You can probably get some pups from someone who has an agave in their yard, and voila! FREE landscaping!

I recommend getting getting lots of the free / cheap cacti and succulents to jump start your landscape, and then replacing them later on (or filling in some empty spots) with more expensive cacti.

Wrong answer: cacti from the desert.

It is illegal to move (steal) cacti from the desert. Since 1929 it has been illegal to damage native plants on, or remove native plants from, state land without a permit.

But I want some trees and ocotillos! Now what?

Some plants for your landscape don’t come in small sizes, but are foundational to your landscape design. Get the smallest healthy specimens you can find. Trees are worth spending a little more on because they take so long to get large, and are hard to replace.

Ocotillos are difficult. If you get the large, bare root specimens, you risk a low survival rate. I have bought 4 ocotillos so far and only 2 of them survived, even with immediate planting. Small ocotillos grow slowly, and over watering them changes their overall shape (more branching). So you can’t just water them extra to get them to grow faster.

Saguaros are another costly favorite. They are about $30 per foot. Specimens over 4-5 feet tall have a harder time rooting and acclimating to their new spot. I recommend getting a few 1-foot tall saguaros and watering them regularly (every 1-2 weeks). With this frequent water, they can grow 6-12 inches per year. If you are dying for bigger saguaros, buy them after you have put in the rest of your landscape. Spend your money on lots of plants first, then expensive plants last.

Agave pups near parent plant