Ask Eartha: How to have a beautiful yard without wasting water
My neighbors are already watering their lawns. I don’t want to waste water, but I don’t want to grow a field of rocks and weeds either. Do you have advice?
As lawns come back to life, local water use slowly creeps up then explodes in summertime. The worst part? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that half the water we use outdoors is lost to wind, evaporation and runoff caused by inefficient irrigation systems. So not only are we using a ton of water, but half of it is wasted. With most of our state in drought conditions, lost water is the last thing we need.
Now, I’m no landscaper, but I can give a few ideas for a great yard that thrives in our high, dry conditions — no wasted water required.
Xeriscape: What it is
What comes to mind when you think of xeriscape? If you imagine endless pavers or gravel, you’ve got it all wrong. Xeriscaping, a term for landscaping with water conservation as a goal, is based on seven principles. And when you dive in, those principles offer practical advice that will save you money on your summer water bill.
I’ll give you some highlights:
- Planning: Would you rip out a bathroom toilet without thinking about what will replace it? Certainly not. Planning is essential for your yard, too.
- Limited and practical turf area: Yep, you can keep your grass. Just use the appropriate kind for our climate, nix the narrow strips that are impossible to water efficiently, and go for things like drought-resistant flowers, shrubs or ground cover where it makes sense.
- Efficient irrigation: Remember that EPA stat? Without efficient irrigation, you risk losing half the water to runoff, evaporation and wind.
Colorado State University’s Extension Office is a great resource for learning more. They have loads of online information detailing what grows well in Summit County and similar mountain regions of Colorado.
If planning and design feel like too much work, talk to local landscapers and let them know that water efficiency is your priority. Do-it-yourselfers might find it helpful (and cheaper) to consult with a professional on design and do the planting on their own. Keep in mind that all plants, even low-water varieties, require extra water as they’re getting established.
A gorgeous yard at altitude
One of my favorite things about traveling the country — which of course I’m doing virtually right now — is seeing different landscapes, from deserts and mountains to rivers and beaches. Each lends a beauty all its own, and there’s no reason to think that yards should look the same everywhere.
Your perfect yard can be water-wise and attractive. Consider for a moment what you love about our local summer hikes. For me, wildflowers top the list. Bring some of that bold mountain color right into your yard with a selection of native flowers, many of which are drought resistant and known for attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Maybe you’d even like to incorporate a vegetable garden or edible plants.
Efficiency is essential
As you begin planning, remember that the most water-wise landscaping can be sabotaged by broken or inefficient watering systems. If you’d like to add a system, landscape and irrigation professionals have experience with all the latest water-saving equipment and technology. If you already have an irrigation system in place, ask your professional to ensure that it’s turned on and working as efficiently as possible. It may sound obvious, but those two things aren’t the same.
To help, the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon and Frisco are offering free sprinkler inspections to their water customers, including residents and homeowner associations. The inspection covers irrigation systems, not the simple sprinklers you connect to a hose.
As you’re thinking about conserving outdoors, I encourage you to take that mindset indoors, too. High Country Conservation Center offers free water checkups that test for toilet leaks and include on-the-spot quick fixes. To learn more and sign up for local water conservation programs, visit HighCountryConservation.org/water.
Remember, a great outdoor space is like another room for your home. Picture yourself kicking back with afternoon drinks or weekend brunch. That picture likely doesn’t include a grassy field. Whether you work with a professional or take the shovel into your own hands, you can create an attractive outdoor space with water efficiency and comfortable living in mind.
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.
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