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Utah State University Emphasizes Drought-Tolerant Plants, Localscaping


Localscaping, or landscaping with local plants and soils to match the climate you live in, can help conserve water and support local habitats. Utah State University has joined this effort with drought-tolerant landscaping.

Shane Richards is USU’s landscape maintenance and operations manager and has been working with the landscaping department to transition many of the university’s lawns to plants that are more drought-tolerant. In many cases, these plants are local plants. The project is part of an effort to increase sustainability and water conservation at the university.

“Some gardens, we like to do native plants. Our goal is to turn the water off after they're established. And those are more of a desert landscape like you see in front of the credit union. And then some of these are just more drought tolerant, where they're not natives, but they do require less water,” Richards said.

While the drought in Utah has played a part in USU’s interest in switching from lawns to landscapes more appropriate for the state’s arid climate, the university’s push for landscape sustainability started before the drought hit Utah.

To maximize the amount of water saved, Richards said the university uses technology in addition to drought-tolerant plants and landscaping.

“Before we started doing a lot of emphasis on the gardens, we did a lot of emphasis on our irrigation system," Richards explained. "We put in smart clocks that monitor the weather. And so it automatically adjusts the sprinkler system about every day. It'll say, this is what we need, or what we don't need, so to speak. And then after we felt like we had our irrigation system kind of where we wanted it, we started putting more emphasis into the gardens and changing the gardens out.”

When selecting areas to improve, Richards focuses primarily on lawns that aren’t used for recreation. Overall, the response to changes the university has made have been positive.

“If it's played on or used, it's actually something that we usually want to keep. Because that's the purpose of lawn. I think we probably get someone that, you know, feels bad we took the turf out, but it's probably 90% positive 10% negative comments on it,” Richards said.

For more information on how to create a localscape, visit or

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.