get the word on water-wise landscaping for dry climates

The summer season brings with it longer days, an abundance of sunshine and more time spent outdoors — often in our own backyards. For many residents of Colorado, summer can also mean the strenuous upkeep of our home landscapes. The reality of maintaining a lush, verdant backyard in the summer means using much more water than colder months, and especially more water than what can be naturally captured from precipitation alone.

Xeriscaping, or water-wise landscaping, is the answer to creating a lush backyard in Colorado’s dry climate. Although some may misunderstand Xeriscaping as replacing lawns with expanses of river rock or pea gravel, using stone is not the only (and often, not the most ideal) way to create a xeric garden.

Creating a beautiful yard with sustainable plantings and thoughtfully crafted landscaping elements can ensure that your outdoor space looks just as lush and vibrant in the summer months to come, without the overconsumption of water. Below are some landscaping tips for dry climates that can help you achieve a verdant landscape in the most challenging conditions:

// select drought-tolerant plants //

One of the most important things to consider when selecting plants for a water-wise landscape is their success in dry climates and conditions. The plants that consume the most water are often the same plants that are sensitive to excessive heat — a disastrous combination for high-altitude deserts. Many drought-tolerant plants have deep roots and can access moisture from water sources farther down in the soil, making them ideal start for building a xeric garden.

When in doubt, go native. CSU Extension provides a comprehensive list of all native trees, shrubs and perennials that can not only withstand, but succeed in Colorado’s climate. For homeowners and gardeners that want an even more seamless route to water-wise landscaping, check out Resource Central’s endless options for a Garden in a Box. This service takes the guesswork out of selecting drought-tolerant plants for a variety of shade levels, from full sun to full shade. As an added bonus, many Garden in a Box options attract essential pollinators and wildlife.

// get the most out of watering //

For backyards big and small, it may not be how much water is being used, but rather the time and the methods. Basic hose sprinklers may not provide full-coverage watering and often create runoff when used excessively. Well-thought-out irrigation systems are necessary for hassle-free watering that minimizes water waste. Utilize a drip system that penetrates the soil directly rather than a sprinkler that can cause much of the water to evaporate. Recurring maintenance on irrigation systems ensures that there are no spikes in water usage from leaks.

The timing of watering is just as crucial as the method. Turning the sprinklers on between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. (when the sun is at its hottest) is a lost cause for thirsty gardens. Instead, opt for early morning watering to reduce evaporation, runoff and wilting.

// consider what is above and below the soil //

The success of water-wise planting can also be informed by Colorado’s soil. The type of soil varies from lawn to lawn, but the majority of Colorado residents experience heavy clay soil, which is low in organic matter. Although most native plants can thrive in this soil type, others may eventually die due to lack of nutrients.

Mulching offers a three-fold solution to soil health. First, mulch helps soil retain moisture — an asset to the xeric gardener. Additionally, mulch keeps weeds at bay, allowing Colorado gardeners to spend less time pulling. Finally, mulch eventually breaks down into the soil below, amending the soil with valuable nutrients.

Still, no matter how healthy the soil is, continued drought may wreak havoc on non-native lawns and long expanses of sod. Water resource analysts have already recognized Colorado’s excessive use of water to maintain lush, green lawns, and are pushing for legislation that incentivizes residents to replace monoculture lawns with either turf or xeric landscaping.

To learn more about replacing your lawn with water-wise landscaping, visit Resource Central’s Lawn Replacement Program page.