Xeriscaping is becoming more popular along Colorado’s Front Range due to many factors such as a need to be good stewards of our water resources, attracting pollinators to the landscape or saving time and money spent on a typical lawn.
No matter the reason, it’s important to begin with a plan to convert your current landscape over to a more water-thrifty design. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and want to rip out your entire landscape all at once, but if you are part of the DIY crowd, you should consider starting small to avoid getting overwhelmed and overrun with weeds.
Xeriscaping is a method of gardening that utilizes both native and other low-water plants that can withstand our semi-arid and dry climate. It is a term derived from combining the words “landscape” and “xeros” (meaning “dry” in Greek) and was created by Denver Water back in the early 1980s.
As the need to conserve water resources became increasingly apparent, the campaign helped introduce the public to the idea of planting more low-water plants in the landscape to help lower outdoor residential water usage.
Over the years, as water resources have remained threatened, Xeriscaping is becoming more popular than ever.
So just how does one get started with xeriscaping their yard? Start small.
The easiest way to convert part of your landscape into a xeric one is to start with your existing flower beds. Because you already likely have a drip system in place, you can swap out plants easily and adjust your watering practices slowly.
Although you will be planting xeric plants, they will still need to be watered regularly for the first year to help them establish. In addition, if you are keeping some of your more water-loving plants in place, you can increase the output of the dripper to continue providing water for things such as trees and shrubs that will be remaining in the landscape. Over time, you can greatly reduce the amount of water applied to these beds until — voilà, you have a more drought-tolerant, xeric landscape.
To prep your landscape beds for their new residents, you will want to pull back any wood mulch and remove all landscape fabric. Most xeric plants prefer a lean, rocky soil that is lower in organic matter, so skip adding any compost.
If you happen to have sandy soils, you are in good shape. If your soils are more claylike, mixing in some expanded shale can help you to increase air availability to the plants’ roots. If you prefer a wood mulch, that’s OK … some plants will do better than others. However, a finer rock mulch such as pea gravel is the preferred mulch for most of our xeric plants.
Now for the fun part … plants! Xeric plants come in all shapes, sizes, colors and kinds, from groundcovers to perennials, to trees and shrubs. When shopping for plants, look to local nurseries to carry varieties that are well adapted to Colorado’s environment.
Xeric plants can be native to the intermountain-west region while others are nonnative and sourced from similar climates around the world. Choose what works for you and your interests, such as creating pollinator habitats, mimicking the native landscape or creating a colorful design palette.
From beautiful purple native penstemons to yellow or pink ice plants from South Africa, the choices are endless. To help you along, CSU Extension has several lists of plants and xeriscaping instructions listed on their website (extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/).
If xeriscaping and retrofitting your landscape is appealing but has you a bit overwhelmed, just start small. Once you have the hang of it, you might decide it’s time to convert some of that turf, as well.
By Amy Poston Lentz. Amy is the Home Horticulture Program Coordinator for Colorado State University Extension Boulder County in Longmont.