As homes around the Greater Albuquerque Area are converting their high-water-use turf grass to desert friendly xeriscapes, many are choosing to use wood chip mulch instead of gravel or other aggregate, which can be hot and allow weeds to pop up. 

The Water Authority checked in on some recent xeriscape conversion projects. Two West Side homeowners with small backyards shared their grass transformation stories with 505Outside. Both homes had grass and gravel landscape. The decision to convert to a desert friendly xeriscape was an easy one, as one homeowner commented, “While I liked having grass, I couldn’t justify the water it took to keep the lawn healthy. I do enjoy not having to mow and feel much better about saving water.”

Both homeowners chose to use wood chip mulch. One homeowner learned through their contractor that shredded wood chip mulch is cooler than gravel and retains moisture around the plants. The second homeowner was used to the idea of mulch from their time living in New England.   

Wood chip mulch is made up of chipped trees. This is a long-lasting mulch that decomposes slowly over bare dirt, retains moisture and is superior to other mediums at suppressing weeds. Most wood mulches available on the market are chipped flat and are consistent in shape and size. These are great in areas that receive foot traffic as they compact down to a firm surface.

Both homes installed a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch. That depth is effective at preventing sunlight from reaching annual weed seeds, thereby preventing weed germination. The homeowners noted that mulch was easy to install and much less expensive than gravel, and they noticed that the mulch also was much cooler than the hot gravel. For these West Side homeowners, wind was their biggest concern. However, after living with the mulch for over a year, it’s only blown around a little bit and has been easy to sweep back into the garden. 

One surprise for these homeowners has been the increase in wildlife. “We see whiptail lizards and ground feeding birds like robins, thrashers and roadrunners foraging for insects in the wood mulch.” Both agreed they do not miss mowing a lawn, plus they love the bonus of a low water bill. The Water Authority rebates were a huge incentive to make the change. There was definitely a learning curve for these first-timers to using a drip irrigation system, but it’s been easier than they thought, and their landscapes are low maintenance overall.

Additional Facts on Mulches:

Wood chip mulch insulates plant roots from both heat and cold, reducing moisture loss from the soil by evaporation, feeding beneficial soil microorganisms that enhance plant growth and improving soil health. This makes the soil more sponge-like and better able to hold water. By installing 3-4 inches of mulch over bare dirt, weeds are reduced, the soil is enriched, and new plants retain more moisture.

Another benefit of organic mulches is that they can visually accommodate a little bit of leaf litter, reducing the need for constant raking and clean-up. A thin top dressing of mulch added every two to three years keeps the landscape looking fresh and replaces the material that has broken down to sustain the soil. Organic mulches are lightweight, making them easy to transport in a wheelbarrow and spread with a rake.

Mulches are available in bags from most local garden centers (avoid the dyed ones as the colors will fade) and in bulk from several retailers in the Albuquerque area. When you buy from local bulk retailers, you are supporting the recycling of local organic materials that may otherwise end up in a landfill and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Buying bulk also means less plastic! Mulch can sometimes be available at no cost from local tree trimming companies. In addition, Bernalillo County offers free mulch to residents who load it themselves at the East Mountain Transfer Center. County staff can load the mulch in your vehicle with a tractor for a $5 charge. The county also will deliver 30 cubic yards of mulch for $60, plus $2 a round trip mile for delivery. Mulches are a renewable resource that will improve landscape health and conserve water. 

In areas of higher wind exposure or periodic inundation with water, use a wood chip mulch that is irregularly shaped and sized as the pieces will knit together better. This type of mulch can include recycled yard waste and tree trimmings as well as commercially available, locally processed wood products.   

Property Data:

Each homeowner converted under 800sf of park blend grass to desert friendly xeriscape. Total rebate received: $2,310.

Thinking about converting your yard from high-water-use grass to xeriscape? Check out the Desert Friendly Xeriscape Rebate page to learn more about the qualifications, requirements and process to apply for this generous rebate. Additionally, xeriscape rebate participants get 25% off the cost of installing bulk organic mulch, up to $100. If you want to top dress mulch around your trees, take advantage of our Treebates. You are welcome to contact our xeriscape specialist, Amos Arber, at or 505-208-2015.

Learn more about mulches here:

4 Common Myths about Organic Mulch

Types of Mulches


How to Make a Tree Watering System for Your Established and Mature Trees

Author:  Amos Arber, Xeriscape Rebate Inspector with the Water Resources Conservation Department for the Water Authority. And Jill Brown, ASLA Have a question about the article?