Xeriscaping Options for Zone 5 – Madison WI

Xeriscaping is the art of designing and installing landscaping that uses as little water as possible. It is often used in drought-prone regions where water is scarce. In Zone 5 – the greater Madison, WI area – Xeriscaping has a few benefits that homeowners can enjoy. Keep reading as we go through some of the Xeriscaping options for Zone 5


Our climate has its extremes. It is cold in the winter and hot in the summer and that gives you two choices when you choose plants for landscaping or Xeriscaping. 

  1. Annuals – Not all plants will survive our winter and those perennials that do not we treat as though they are annuals. Some you can remove and take indoors to overwinter them. 
  2. Native Plants and Cold Hardy Plants – Plants that are native to the area will often survive our colder climate and tolerate the heat of summers. Native plants are a good option if you want to enjoy perennials year after year. 

Your choices for choosing plants are to either plant annuals or treat perennials as annuals or overwinter your perennials. You can also go with cold-tolerant plant options, which often means native plants. 

Mixing Xeriscaping with Landscaping

In dryer climates, Xeriscaping is a way to landscape with plants that can survive long-term without a lot of water. You can mix Xeriscaping with traditional landscape designs to create a minimalistic effect while still creating beautiful areas within your yard. 

Rocks, hardscaping structures, and other features help to flesh out the design, and perennial plants, such as flowering thyme, create drama and movement among those harder surfaces. In colder climates, you are not limited to plants that are drought tolerant. If you use native plants, they will mostly survive the winter around Madison. 

The Tools of Xeriscaping

Monolithic – Xeriscaping uses a small set of tools to create beauty without a lot of input. One tool of Xeriscaping is height. You can create height by stacking rocks or using long thin rocks stood on their end. Think about Stonehenge. Monolithic structures, which can include trellised plants – roses, jasmine, etc., are examples. 

Drama – Drama is a term that we use in landscaping to evoke feelings. It can be the gentle way a plant spills around boulders or the crisp edge of hardscaping that creates a linear aspect that pulls you along a pathway.

Color – Because Xeriscaping is a minimalistic approach color is used sparingly, but with vivid tones. Think about plants or objects that draw the eye. You use color to bring things forward or to push them back within the landscape. 

Using Xeriscaping in Colder Climates 

The benefits of Xeriscaping are that you can save on the cost of water, fertilizers, labor, time, and other costs that go into having a beautiful yard. How much does a sprawling lawn cost per month? 

Because we are installing a mixture of hard and soft – rocks and plants or structures and plants, you gain the benefits of Xeriscaping even in colder climates. If you shop wisely, you may find perennial plants that will survive the winter in zone 5. If not, you can replace certain plants each year with annuals or fast-growing perennials. You keep the basic structure and simply replace what does not survive. In so doing, you gain a bit of artistic license in being able to change up aspects of the finished product without having to invest in a complete redesign. 

A few flowering plants to consider would be:

  • Prairie Blazingstar
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Smooth Aster 
  • Butterfly weed 
  • Bee Balm
  • Daylily
  • Sedum – cold hardy 
  • Bulbs such as crocus, daffodils, irises

There is a very long list of zone 5 plants that you can choose to “paint” your landscape with texture and color.