Ask Eartha: A green yard isn’t always sustainable (column)
June 2, 2017
Now that the weather seems to be nice, I am thinking about revamping my front yard. Can you make some eco-friendly and water-conscious suggestions?
This question is so very pertinent, Dan. As Coloradans, we have a deep responsibility to conserve water. Not only do we have our own state's water rights to contend with (a deeply complex topic for another time), but as a headwater state, we have the added responsibility of ensuring that 60 percent of the water that originates in Colorado is sent downstream to other U.S. states and Mexico. The water that does stay here must be allocated among five sectors: agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental. So, the water that is available to use in Colorado is very limited and restricted to uses already designated within the state.
That said, there are ways that you can have a lush, beautiful yard while keeping the environment and water conservation in mind. One relatively new trend for lawns and yards is xeriscaping. A word coined by Denver Water in the 1980s, xeriscaping literally means dry landscaping. It's a method of landscaping that uses native and other drought-resistant plants. The look of these yards varies depending on region and climate. In Summit County, a xeriscaped yard could consist of sage bushes, quaking aspens, columbine, yarrow, coneflower, lupines and other indigenous, low-water, high-altitude plants.
If your goal is to maintain a traditional lawn, there are a few eco-friendly choices when it comes to grass. The turf of choice in Colorado is typically Kentucky Bluegrass, however this variety of grass requires an abundant amount of water to maintain its lush green appearance. Without supplemental irrigation, turf grasses can be difficult to grow and maintain at high-altitude. Better options for a high-altitude, low-maintenance lawn include wheatgrasses and fescues, but to get the best advice for your lawn, consult the local Colorado State University Extension Office or a local landscaper.
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Utilizing conservation-friendly irrigation methods is another important component to maintaining an eco-friendly yard. Sprinklers tend to be the go-to method for irrigation in large gardens and lawns. However, sprinklers can be wasteful due to both evaporation and malfunction of the sprinklers themselves. If you are going to use sprinklers, avoid watering during the heat of the day when evaporation levels are highest. Additionally, ensure that all sprinkler heads are in working order and are facing the plants you intend to water — please don't be the neighbor who waters the sidewalk. Finally, consider using moisture sensors so you don't irrigate while it's raining.
Compared to sprinklers, drip irrigation is a much more efficient way of getting water to plants. This type of irrigation uses a tube with holes in it which is snaked along the base of your plants. A garden hose is connected to this tubing system, and water is delivered directly to the roots of plants. While drip irrigation isn't ideal for lawns, it can perform beautifully for flower beds, shrubs and decorative trees.
Don't forget, Colorado passed a law in 2016 that allows the collection of rainwater for irrigation purposes. Homeowners may collect and store rainwater from roof collection systems in two 55-gallon drums. Utilizing rain water for small garden beds planted with veggies or flowers is a great way to irrigate.
For more information, contact the High Country Conservation Center or visit HighCountryConservation.org, and good luck "yardening" this summer!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.