Ask Eartha: How to save water through xeriscaping
June 9, 2016
I noticed that my water rates went up in Breckenridge, and I was wondering if you have any water saving tips for landscaping? – Donald, Breckenridge
Thank you for your question this week, Donald, and what great timing for the upcoming growing season!
As many of us are aware, Colorado is typically a dry state. That being said, up here in the mountains, we tend to get more water or snow than a lot of places in Colorado. But it still seems that the hot sun in July can dry out our lawns in a matter of hours. There is a technique that's been gaining popularity in recent years known as Xeriscaping. In fact, it was coined and developed by Denver Water as a way to address landscaping on the Front Range. As we are becoming more aware of the importance of water efficiency and conservation, this technique is one way to create a unique landscape plan and can help cut water expenses and use simultaneously.
On average, an American family uses 320 gallons of water per day. In Colorado, about 50 percent of those gallons are devoted to outdoor use, which includes watering lawns and gardens. And, if you really want me to blow your mind, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), about 9 billion gallons of water per day is used nationwide for landscape irrigation … wow! Here is where Xeriscaping comes into play. It can be defined as landscaping and gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation techniques. You are probably thinking, "That's crazy! Eliminating water … from landscaping?!" If not eliminating completely, you will certainly cut back your water use dramatically by following the 7 principles of Xeriscaping.
The Fundamentals: First off, Xeriscape design was first implemented in drought-stricken regions. Thus, the point of this technique is to promote water conservation by designing a landscape that can maximize use of natural precipitation. To do so, you (or a landscape designer) will work to create a draft of your yard that includes any trees, fences, walkways and structures. Recognize the areas that receive the most sun and shade. This helps determine the various watering needs of your lawn. Another aspect that is crucial for watering determination is slope. A slope can act as a natural drainage in your yard. For instance, you would want to place a thirsty plant at the base of the slope to enhance natural watering.
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Soil: When designing your Xeriscape, you want to be certain you are using soil that drains quickly and stores water at the same time. You can do this by increasing the amount of organic material in your soil (compost) and ensuring it is well aerated. Contact your local landscape or gardening professionals if you are not sure how to balance your soil to meet these needs.
Limit Turf Area: As you are probably aware by now, Xeriscaping involves very little turf (or grass) areas. Some households choose to eliminate turf completely, while others retain some for open space activities and/or visual appeal. If you choose to keep grass in your design, I would recommend using native and drought-resistant species that are adapted to the mountain environment. Remember, although it may be considered "drought-tolerant," it doesn't mean it won't require some maintenance.
Use Native Plants: In my opinion, this may be one of the most important aspects to Xeriscaping. Living in a "dry" state means that many of our native plants are already accustomed to drought and little precipitation. The sage bush is a great example of a native, drought-resistant species that you can utilize. Also, here is a fun tip if you do choose to include some not so drought resistant plants: Trees help reduce evaporation by blocking wind and shading soil. So consider planting your thirsty plants (if you have any) near trees to help cut down water use.
Mulch: When you think of mulch, you probably start to visualize brown chips. However, the term "mulch" can encompass a lot more than you'd expect. Boulders, rocks, gravel, wood grindings and bark chips all make excellent additions to a Xeriscape design. Mulch offers an abundant variety of benefits such as plant-root cooling, soil crust prevention, evaporation minimization and weed reduction. If placed properly, mulch can be quite appealing to the eye, and you can even have some fun with it by creating paths and patterns throughout your yard.
Irrigation: Again, water conservation is the main purpose of Xeriscaping, so avoid overwatering your landscape. A good alternative to the average sprinkler system is to place soaker hoses or install a drip-irrigation system if necessary. This also helps to reduce water loss from evaporation, thereby saving you money from unnecessary over-use.
Maintenance: One of the greatest benefits next to water conservation is that in a proper Xeriscape design maintenance is very minimal. Sure, the common weed may require some manual labor, but you will no longer need to spend hours cutting grass, re-planting or digging up old plants that failed to survive.
A concern by many is that this technique will be costly. However, there are ways to avoid this by starting with seeds, purchasing smaller plants and by simply planning for a low-maintenance layout. A Xeriscape layout can be colorful, lush and welcoming and is a great way to help save on water costs this summer season. Not to mention it can turn into a fun family project! Your neighbors will surely be in awe at the unique and charming touch that Xeriscape can have on your yard. Give it a try yourself by researching more on countless designs or inquire with your local landscape and gardening architects. Tune in to change, turn off your water and drop into Xeriscaping!
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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