Colorado residents use as much water on their yards and gardens every year as they do inside their homes, according to Colorado WaterWise, an organization dedicated to water conservation and eco-friendly landscaping tips.
That’s why the group urges residents to xeriscape — a type of landscaping that uses drought-tolerant plants and grasses — which it says can help cut water use by 60 percent or more.
Besides saving water and money, xeriscape’s eye-catching designs can improve the value of your home by as much as 15 percent, according to the group.
The most important part of xeriscape is planning, says Dr. Jim Klett, professor and extension landscape horticulturist with Colorado State University (CSU). When selecting plants, Klett says, “Take into consideration [sun] exposure and how plants grow.” You should also consider a plant’s water and soil requirements, he says.
For example, yards with western exposures generally produce hot spots, Klett says. Unless you have a lot of shade trees, “Choose more drought-tolerant plants,” he adds.
Because xeriscape incorporates turf reduction, people mistakenly think it means removing all grass and replacing it with native plants or pebble gardens with cacti nestled into the rocks, according to Colorado WaterWise.
Instead, the Colorado Water Conservation Board suggests using “approximately 25 percent low water use plants, 25 percent moderate water use plants and up to 50 percent traditional turf.”
Xeriscape includes a diverse collection of flowers, ornamental grasses and mulches that cool the soil beneath and conserve water — options that can help homeowners swap out water-guzzling flora for species that require less moisture.
Many irises, tulips and roses can be introduced to non-irrigated landscaping in the Rocky Mountain region, according to the Boulder Community Network.
Known for their resilience in high-elevation, semi-arid climates, zinnias work well with echinacea, liatris and mirabilis, according to gardeners at PlantSelect.org, a CSU-based website with xeriscaping tips.
If you want more variety, the CSU Extension suggests ornamental grasses like sedges, rushes and hardy bamboo. These tall and short grasses can add height and movement in the garden, though some vary in water and sunlight requirements, says Klett.
Grasses that prefer more moisture include switch grass, a native variety. Some popular non-natives like maiden grass — which includes variegated Japanese silver grass — also require regular watering, according to the CSU Extension.
If you need more plant pairing ideas, the Denver Botanic Gardens offers an online Gardens Navigator tool.
Residents along Colorado’s Front Range typically enjoy a mild climate — except in the summer, when temperatures can soar into the triple digits. Add to that the fact that the state’s average rainfall is 15 inches a year, according to the CSU Extension. The result is homeowners eagerly rejuvenating their brown, dead-looking lawns by over-watering.
To save water, homeowners should opt for grass varieties adapted to the region, says Klett. Natives like buffalograss or blue grama thrive in drought conditions compared to traditional varieties, he says.
To prevent the inevitable mid-summer brown spots on lawns, Klett suggests “cyclic watering,” a temporary measure done twice a day (once in the early morning and another in the evening), often with shorter watering durations.
“You may need an extra inch and a half of water. Increase the amount of water you’re putting on your lawn in July and August,” Klett says.
He advises to watch out for water runoff — an indicator of overwatering, especially with sloped yards.
To conserve water, Denver Water, the city’s utility provider, prohibits watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. during the summer and allows watering only three times per week.
To keep moisture in the lawn, the CSU Extension recommends using a mulching blade on your lawn mower. It instantly delivers grass clippings to the lawn, which can trap water, helping to reduce evaporation and weeds.
Follow these recommendations and you’ll be helping to reduce water consumption in the Denver area.