Hear words like "xeriscaping" or "drought-tolerant garden" and you might think of rock-filled expanses with a few cacti and spindly plants. But that's a stereotype. While many drought-tolerant gardens do resort to using rock mulch and a few small plants, others can be quite lush. Not every big, green plant needs a lot of water. If you're willing to look, and you work with a landscaper who is dedicated to creating gardens that conserve water, you can have a very green and leafy yard — not to mention a brightly colored one when flowers bloom — and conserve water at the same time.
Look for Native Plants That Spread Out
Native species will already be tolerant of what the water situation is like in your region. If you're going through an extended drought, that might be a little severe for some plants, but with a low-water variety, you should be able to provide enough extra water via drip irrigation to help them survive. Native groundcovers are particularly useful if you want to avoid having a very rocky-looking yard.
Consider Flowers from the U.S. Southwest
Plants that thrive in the Desert Southwest don't always bring the word "lush" to mind, but there are a number that really do have green leaves and brightly colored flowers that cover more ground than you think. While these plants will need space around them so that they can get adequate water out of the soil (and not worry about competition from other plants), they won't need a ton of space. Try cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), with its low-water, hummingbird-friendly flowers, bright green leaves, and relatively thick shrub shape; plant a few of these together to form a water-friendly border. Bush lantana (Lantana camara 'Radiation') can be planted close together and provides red and orange flower clusters that tumble out among green leaves. Lantana montevidensis has light purple blooms, in case you prefer that color. You have plenty of options.
Pay Close Attention to the Cultivar
Plant breeders and agricultural extensions at universities have worked to breed cultivars (a cultivar is a variety within a species) of plants that are more drought-resistant, more heat-tolerant, and more cold-tolerant than their original species. These discoveries help gardeners and landscapers have plants that normally wouldn't be able to survive in the gardener's region. If you have been wishing you could have a certain plant in your yard but know the plant requires a lot of water, double-check to see if there are new cultivars that could possibly survive in your low-water yard.
Reach out to a landscape design service to learn more.