Rip out the ornamental lawn -- it was never that useful anyway, and it's too thirsty. Hardscaping is the multipurpose, low-maintenance trend of the future.
Whether you're investing in a flip or a rental property, the most interesting trend on the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) 2020 list as far as I'm concerned is hardscaping. It aligns with a broader shift toward low-water planting and environmentally friendly landscape design. While lawns -- the American suburban style standard -- aren't going away, we can expect to see more hardscaping, and a mix of hardscaping and softscaping (greenery) that features native plants.
"By working cohesively, hardscaping and softscaping act as natural coolants, protect waterways, and clean air, while also providing a place for families and friends to gather," says NALP member Jeff Rossen of Rossen Landscape.
What does a hardscaped yard look like?
You've seen one before without realizing it. Stone terraces, gravel paths, zen gardens, and wooden decks are all hardscaped features. Xeriscaping, or low-water landscaping, usually employs a mix of hardscape (stone and rock features) and drought-resistant softscape.
Some of what professional landscapers see as hardscape trends for 2020:
Intricate geometric hardscaping patterns -- even walkways can now have flair
Outdoor living rooms
Sustainable construction products
Low-water landscaping in arid places where it makes sense
Smart irrigation, controlled remotely via smartphone app
Why the popularity?
The last two bullets really make a statement about why people are switching to this style, apart from the convenience and money-saving aspects. The conversation about climate change has permeated every corner of America, and lawns are a major drain on water resources. They also require fuel and fertilizer for upkeep. A recent Grist article identified ornamental lawns as "the single largest irrigated 'crop' in America" -- and this is a crop that feeds no one, will not be turned into a product, and often won't survive extreme weather or wear and tear.
Even people who don't understand giving up plastic straws or grocery bags can understand why it makes sense to stop dumping 50 gallons of water in the front yard daily. It's a 9 billion gallon waste every day, according to the EPA -- all so that people can have a yard that looks exactly like everyone else's.
Costs and benefits?
The initial costs of installing a hardscape project are not low. According to a technical director for the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, a hardscaped front yard might cost $4,000 to $10,000, depending on square footage and design elements, while a backyard can go much higher, depending on how big it is. A townhouse-sized yard can range from $4,000 to $15,000.
But there are many cost benefits in the long term. This type of yard:
Doesn't need to be regularly landscaped
Doesn't require regular watering
Isn't going to die off during extreme weather and require replanting
Can lower your water bill
For a landlord, the low-maintenance aspect of hardscaping is a great selling point. And in certain drought-prone regions, including Southern California and Arizona cities, the city gives rebates and other incentives to switch to low-water landscaping.
For potential homebuyers who plan to either live in the home or renovate and sell it, these benefits matter as well. But there are others, such as the fact that such hardscaped yards may be easier on people with allergies and/or attract fewer insects. They also require less pesticides, which is important to an increasing number of people, especially those with small children or pets who spend lots of time in the yard.
All-season usage is a major perk
Another benefit of hardscaping is that, if you plan the design intelligently, it actually increases the amount of usable square footage outside. While a flower garden may look beautiful for a few months out of the year, and a grass lawn is still the current all-American suburban look, neither feature is suited to host people year-round. A flagstone terrace with seating and a firepit, on the other hand, is -- especially if you cover it with a retractable shade or a pergola.
"Whether a homeowner is looking to entertain or relax, an outdoor space is a top priority for year-round enjoyment," says Jeff Rossen. This is even truer for vacation renters.
Individualized, practical, and with a longer window of use each year, hardscaped outdoor living spaces are the yard style of the future. And landscapers are ready to show you what that looks like.