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Xeriscaping

Gardeners are some of the most ingenious problem solvers that I know. Whether it is marauding deer or bad drainage, a gardener can come up with an elegant solution to the situation.

A good example of this is water conservation. It is a growing concern for all of us, whether we garden or not. More and more communities are setting up water use restrictions and that leaves many of us wondering how these new guidelines will affect our gardens. Leave it to gardeners to come with a wonderfully elegant solution - xeriscaping. Xeriscape means, "water conservation through creative landscaping." It is a registered trademark of the Denver Water Board of Denver, Colorado, an organization dedicated to water conservation.

The Board has developed seven golden rules to successful xeriscaping that are applicable in any climate. And what you may find surprising is that plant palettes are not restricted to drought tolerant or native selections. A xeriscaped garden can actually be quite lush and colorful and yes, it can even include a nice green lawn.

Seven Steps to Creating a Xeriscape

  1. Start with a Plan

    To begin, make a few copies of the survey or plot plan of your home. I like to make enlargements because they are easier to work with. Use these copies as sketch pads to draw out the placement of existing trees and shrubs, driveways, sidewalks and hardscape elements such as patios or out buildings. Note the micro-climates around your house. Which areas are sunny or shady? Consider how each area will be used such as outdoor dining or a play area for children. Do you have an irrigation system in place? If so, be sure to include it in your plan. Once you have all the existing elements on paper you are ready to take your "blueprint" to a designer or create a garden design on your own.

  2. Good Soil

    Very few of us are blessed with good gardening soil. Most soils are either heavy clay or sand. Clay soils are slow to absorb water resulting in standing water and run off while sandy soils drain too quickly. To improve these conditions it is important to amend your soil with organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure.

  3. Practical Lawns

    You don't have to do away with a lawn to have a xeriscaped garden. Just be practical. Choose a type of grass that is known to be low maintenance and drought tolerant. Limit your use of turf to areas where it serves a function, such as a place for children to play. Or, if you prefer use ground covers, mulches or hardscape elements in place of a lawn.

  4. Irrigation

    Your watering system, whether automatic or by hand, is a key element in the design of your garden. It is wise to consider both types of systems during the planning stage.

    When using automatic systems, zone turf areas separate from flowerbeds. Group plants with similar water requirements together. For grass, low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers irrigate best. Drip, spray or bubbler emitters are most efficient for watering trees, shrubs, flowers and ground covers.

    If you plan to water by hand choose a sprinkler that emits big drops, low to the ground. Avoid oscillating sprinklers, misters and sprinklers that throw the water high into the air.

    If you live in an arid region, water between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. Water in the early morning if your climate is humid. I like to water around 5:00 a.m.

    And keep an eye on the weather. Adjust your watering schedule to account for rain and seasonal changes.

  5. Group Plants with Similar Cultural Requirements

    There are areas around your home that have their own microclimates. These areas receive different amounts of sunlight and moisture. To use limited amounts of water wisely, group together plants with compatible light and water needs and place them in the areas of your garden that match those needs. For example, you can design your beds so that plants that require moist soil are located in slow draining areas and where it is easy to water. Native plants and drought tolerant plants should be located in areas that are harder to water. I recommend visiting The Gardening Centers of Colorado X-Rated Plant Program website for a list of plants that are drought tolerant.

  6. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

    Applying a 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch around your plants will go a long way in reducing the amount of time you spend watering. Mulch helps keep moisture in the soil, cool roots, reduce weeds and slow erosion. I think it also adds a nice finished look to flower beds.

    I prefer to use ground pine bark, but shredded hard wood, pine straw and cypress are a few other organic options. Organic mulches are nice because they break down over time, adding nutrients to the soil. Of course this mean they have to be replaced periodically. For a permanent solution try rock or gravel. Apply this about 2 inches thick. This material retains heat so avoid using it in sunny locations.

  7. Maintenance and Care

    All gardens require maintenance, but the good thing about a xeriscape is that as it matures it will require less work. Keeping up with routine tasks such as weeding, watering, pest control, fertilizing and pruning results in a healthy garden, which in the long run requires less labor to maintain.

For more information on xeriscaping check these online sources: