Carol O'Meara - Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara – Colorado State University Extension

BOULDER – Planning for the future in Colorado isn’t limited to retirements or college funds; we who live in this semi-arid land also have to take water into consideration. And despite Mother Nature regularly turning the rain and snow on and off over April, seasoned gardeners know the heat is coming and with it, dry days.

Projections for growth in our population and demands downstream put a strain on our water, and long-term predictions of a 560,000 acre-feet gap between need and supply by 2050 is grim. The balance between what we have and what we’ll need will begin tipping sooner than we think – in some areas as soon as 2020 – sparking a stream of calls for conservation action to begin right now.

The approval of the Colorado Water Plan last November 19 by Governor Hickenlooper has helped put in motion plans by big agencies and small landscape owners to shrink the gap as best we can.

“We all know we don’t have unlimited water. Educated clients understand that we need to address this,” says Becky Hammond, senior licensed landscape architect with Native Edge Landscapes in Boulder.  “(In times of drought) It’s easier for municipalities and water providers to do the knee-jerk water restrictions, like specific days to allow watering.  But that doesn’t take into consideration cycles in the landscape or water needs of new versus established plants; you can’t just cut off people who are landscaping or renovating.”

Working towards goals set in the Water Plan takes planning and vision for the long term if Coloradoans want to keep the quality of life provided by landscapes in urban and suburban areas.  Instead of short-term restrictions, Hammond and members of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado are moving forward with sensible, sustainable designs that combine cutting edge technology with old-fashioned understanding of plants and the environment.

Low water landscapes are beautiful, and with the right design and technology, can cut water use significantly over outdated irrigation systems and water-hogging plants. “Think of the whole landscape as having a water budget just like you’d think of counting calories. You have a limit; where do you want to spend it?” said Hammond.  “Use your budget as you want, then use other parts interestingly by adding boulders or dry creeks near downspouts to direct the water towards plants.”

Whether you’re planning a new landscape or renovating an old one, hiring a professional designer will pay off in water savings through sustainable use of your property. With microclimates, slopes, exposure and soil types, there are a lot of things to take into consideration.

One of the more challenging things to do is decide when you need a remodel, says Tanya Fisher, president of Colorado Vista Landscape Design, Inc. in Windsor.  “Water around here is gold and it’s priced as such. When you realize the trees are larger (than when planted 20 years ago), the grass won’t grow, roots of trees are on the surface, or you’re throwing water, water, water at the landscape with no improvement, it’s time to reconsider that area.”

Fisher says a typical remodel will reshape lawn areas, downsizing them to more water efficient sizes and softening edges so sprinklers can irrigate them more efficiently.  Retrofitting with drip irrigation and pop up heads save dollars as well as water.

When renovating, consider what you want to keep and what you want to achieve. Do you want decreased maintenance, less time spent mowing, or a facelift so the property looks better? “When you transform something, you must think what are you transforming it to?” Fisher said.

Find a pro designer to help you by visiting Interview at least three companies to ensure that they listen to your needs and fit your budget.

Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, or visit