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Green Speak

Use Only What You Need with Xeriscaping

During this cool, wet weather it is hard to think about the hot, dry summer ahead of us. Yet, if the past two summer droughts still resound in your memory, you might be looking for ways to limit your gardens water use. Let's look at one such technique that citizens in the arid west have adopted and is spreading eastward.

In 1976 and 77 a severe winter drought brought the Colorado economy and government to a screeching halt. Vital snows that blanketed ski slopes and refilled reservoirs never arrived. That next summer saw incredible water shortages and restrictions. The governor at the time, Richard Lamm, formed a special council of experts to assess the crisis and propose ideas to ease the burden of recreation and ag-based industries. In 1978 the Denver Water department had an idea that could reduce irrigation needs and that was based on sound horticultural principles- they called that idea xeriscaping.

The water department's idea caught on and became a popular movement in the drought stricken western US. With recent drought and water shortages affecting increasing areas of the country the xeriscape concept is gaining popularity outside of the American west.

Denver's Water department developed seven principles grounded in horticultural truths to support the concept of xeriscaping.

  • Plan & design
  • Soil amendment
  • Efficient irrigation
  • Appropriate plant selections for water-use zones in the landscape
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch
  • Seek alternatives for turf grasses
  • Maintenance at an appropriate level

Let's look at the first principle, plan and design your landscape. The key to a successful xeriscape garden begins with proper planning of how you are going to manage your water. We do this by dividing our property into three water use zones.

High water-use zones are supposed to receive regular watering. This could be lawns, highly visible areas, highly maintained areas such as near an entry or patio.

Moderate use water zones only require supplemental water when plants start to discolor, wilt, or show other symptoms of moisture stress.

Low water-use zones receive only natural rainfall, even during times of drought. Plants for these areas are selected for their tolerance to withstand drought naturally, either through reduced plant function or going completely dormant. Irrigate plants to establish them regardless of water-use zone.

Want to learn more about xeriscping and the remaining six principles? Click HERE to check out the official document from the Denver Water Department at their website.

And as always you can contact your local Extension office for more information on this gardening technique.