This story is part of our Be Water Wise series. Each week we will be educating Utahns on water usage and conservation. Special thanks to The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and Cynthia Bee for helping coordinate information from the state water districts. 

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Utah residents are scratching their heads over all the decisions they could make when it comes to their landscaping.

Is it best to rip out all your lawn and throw around rocks? Should you only plant cactus and plants that require little water? Should you make sure every tree is a shade tree to help mitigate Urban Heat Island Effect? The list goes on and on, but the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, along with its partners, want Utahns to know they can help.

Visitors to The Conservation Garden Park in West Jordan can walk through 9 acres of answers to the many questions posed by residents. The garden showcases Utah-happy plants and techniques that the JVWCD ensures will bring success in our challenging climate. The garden is constantly updating and changing with new research and as new techniques come into play in our great state.

“We’ve seen so many changes in how Utahns think about landscapes over the years—but one change has really taken us by surprise,” said Shaun Moser, Garden Manager, Conservation Garden Park. “We spent the first twenty years of the Garden’s life ensuring people that they could be water-efficient while still having a green, lush yard– that water wise landscapes are not cactus and lava rocks. Now? We’re having to explain to a surprising number of people that water wise landscapes MUST have plants.”

The JVWCD wants to remind residents there is no single solution to personal water conservation, it is not an all-or-nothing, it is about balance.

“We’re not asking Utahns to eliminate all lawn but we will have to rebalance the ratio of lawn to plants and/or other landscape features,” Moser reports. “Lawn is a recreation surface, not a default groundcover and it should only be used in areas where it can fulfill an active purpose. That means sloped areas, narrow spaces, such as park strips, or other small spaces can’t effectively function for recreation and can be put to better use in other ways.”

While plants do require more water than rock does one of the tips the JVWCD explains is targeted watering, using drip irrigation systems, and providing water to desirable plants and not weeds.

One of the greatest benefits of the continued use of plants in landscaping has to do with soil stabilization. Without plants and trees to help us stabilize our soils, erosion occurs, which can lead to both environmental and structural damage. Plant root systems as well as leaves can hold soil in place and slow down water preventing soil runoff.

Those same water-catching plants also provide benefits for wildlife and pollinators. The importance of pollinators in our food systems can not be denied and native and adapted non-native plant species provide habitat for all kinds of creatures including pollinators, insects, arachnids, birds, rabbits, and more.

We all want to live in attractive communities and who doesn’t love the colors and textures of beautiful landscaping? JVWCD promotes beautiful Water-Wise landscaping ideas through their Localscapes initiative. Visit their website to get ideas and learn how to get help implementing them.

Locals can experience water-wise plants and principles in action, free of charge, at Utah’s water demonstration gardens. The website for each Garden connects visitors to the most local information for their region, including tried-and-true plants and free classes: Conservation Garden Park, West Jordan, The Weber Basin Learning Garden, Layton, and The Red Hills Desert Garden, St. George.