A xeric landscape, also known as a xeriscape, is any landscape that replaces traditional vegetation with drought-tolerant plants. Xeriscaping gets its name from the Greek word “xeros,” which means “dry.” Especially in arid climates like Colorado, conserving water is crucial. Xeriscaping provides homeowners with an option to considerably cut water consumption while still having a beautiful yard.
There are 7 established principles of xeriscaping, and adhering to them will ensure that you have the most visually pleasing and water-efficient yard possible. Traditional lawn maintenance requires a great deal of watering, fertilizing, mowing, and other tasks that could potentially harm the native ecosystem and put a strain on your body and wallet. By carefully selecting climate-appropriate plants and designing a water-/moisture-efficient landscape, you can create a xeriscape that both your neighbors and the entire planet will love!
1) Planning & Design
Start your xeriscaping with a base plan, such as a scaled diagram that shows the layout and location of existing greenery, buildings, driveways, sidewalks, patios, etc. Measure permanent features on your property to know what you will have room for in your xeriscape—consider things like property lines, slope, and obstructions when developing a conceptual plan.
Factoring-in things like shade coverage and water exposure will play a big role in determining what types of vegetation to install. Once your conceptual planning is done, start planning where your new drought-tolerant plants will go.
2) Soil Improvements
Sand and clay are the two main soil types in the Colorado climate. If you are working with clay soil, you will find that it is very dense, but it retains water for a long time once it is absorbed. While sandy soil is looser and easier to work with, it can not hold water as well as clay, which makes sandy soil prone to drying out.
Amendments to your soil are often not necessary when planting native plants, as these plants will be naturally acclimated to whatever soil exists. If you are planting non-native plants, you will likely need to loosen the soil and amend it. Amendments can be as simple as adding 1-2 inches of organic compost to the existing soil in order to help it retain enough water for the new plants.
3) Efficient Irrigation
Xeric landscaping is all about conserving water, so implementing efficient irrigation strategies is key! Because turfgrass and plants require different amounts of water, make sure to have designated areas for each to grow separately in order to optimize water usage. Grass can be watered with low-pressure, low-angle sprinklers that produce large drops of water near the ground, and other vegetation (trees, shrubbery, flowers, etc.) can be watered via a slow-release drip, spray, or bubbler.
Both hand-watering and automatic sprinklers can be used on your xeriscape. To develop deep, healthy roots for your chosen vegetation, make sure you water early in the morning or at dusk to avoid evaporation as much as possible. Waterings should be infrequent and deep. If using automatic sprinklers, install a rain sensor and adjust your controller during rainy stretches.
4) Plant Zones
Plants with similar watering and shading requirements should be placed in the same zone to improve efficiency. Plants that require moderate-to-high amounts of water (typically, non-native plants) should be placed in low-lying drainage areas that are near downspouts and in the shade of higher plants and buildings. Native and/or low-water plants can be placed in open areas that receive a lot of sunlight. Remember, patches of turf will always require about twice as much water and sunlight as other plants.
When planning plant zones, it is always best to use native plants or non-native plants that are drought-tolerant. The plants listed below are just a few of the many popular xeriscape plants you can find in Colorado yards:
- Rocky Mountain Penstemon
- Yellow Columbine
- Santa Fe Aster
- Barrel Cactus
- Chocolate Flower
- Desert Spoon
- California Tree Poppy
- Big Bluestem Grass
Organic mulches, such as bark chips, wood grindings, or straw, are excellent choices for a xeric landscape. Organic mulches retain moisture for the plants in your gardens, and they provide additional nutrients for the soil as they decompose. These mulches should be applied at least 4 inches deep, and mature plant growth will eventually cover the mulch.
Inorganic mulches, like rocks or artificial pellets, have the benefit of not decomposing or needing to be replaced. However, these types of mulches are known to radiate heat, and they will not retain moisture like organic types. Inorganic mulches should be applied 2 inches deep. Both organic and inorganic mulches can be applied over a landscape fabric, if desired.
6) Turf Alternatives
Xeric landscapes do not exclude the possibility of having turf. Rather, xeriscaping can include less common, drought-tolerant turfs like buffalo grass or blue grama grass. Standard turfgrass, such as the popular Kentucky bluegrass, requires much more irrigation and sunlight. Drought-tolerant turf, or even artificial turf, will save time, money, and water, and it will give your property a one-of-a-kind aesthetic!
Low-growing, drought-resistant plants are often used as groundcover when xeriscaping. These plants provide an alternative to the aesthetics of traditional lawns at a fraction of the water usage. Popular groundcover plants include the following:
- Lily Of The Valley
- Shore Juniper
- Indian Grass
- Bishop’s Cap
Just like any other yard, your xeriscape will need maintenance once everything is installed and planted. Xeriscape maintenance often includes pruning, weeding garden beds, trimming shrubs, and watering. Your drought-tolerant plants must be taken care of just as you would take care of any other plants.
While you do need to take care of your new xeriscape, you will soon discover that maintenance is much easier and quicker than maintaining a traditional landscape. Your new plants will not grow as rapidly, meaning less upkeep will be needed. Get ready for less work and more free time after completing your new xeriscape!
Benefits Of Xeriscaping
Studies have found that xeriscapes use up to 60% less water than traditional landscapes. The design and plant selection of a xeriscape will optimize water consumption/retention, so you can feel good about using less water during the dry Colorado summers.
Less frequent irrigation needsmean less time spent watering and working in the yard. Xeriscapes do not require long mowing sessions or constant lawn fertilization treatments. Native and/or drought-resistant plants require much less work to maintain.
More Free Time
If spending long hours performing back-breaking tasks in the yard is your favorite activity, xeriscaping may not be for you. For the rest of us, summertime and weekend plans will be whatever you want them to be once you install a xeric landscape.
Planting native plants will help restore natural biodiversity. Particularly, “pocket forests” are used to create tiny, geographically appropriate ecosystems that include groundcover and a canopy right on your property. Native insects, birds, and other wildlife will thrive!
Many people like traditional turf lawns simply because they are accustomed to them. For those who have different tastes, xeriscapes allow the opportunity for your yard to feature unique-looking plants that are sure to be the talk of the town!
Saving money on the water bill is a factor that attracts many homeowners to xeriscapes, but the savings go even further than that! Aside from water, xeric landscapes save money on gas, electricity (electric equipment), mower maintenance, and more!
Many homeowners in Colorado prefer the look and functionality of a xeriscape, so having a xeric landscape already installed in your front and/or back yard will greatly increase your property’s value when it comes time to sell your home.
Maintaining a full, thick lawn of regular turfgrass requires more than just watering and mowing. Chemical fertilizers are often needed to create the kind of lawns people are used to seeing. Xeriscapes minimize chemicals from fertilizers, pesticides, and more.
How Much Does Xeriscaping Cost?
Though xeriscapes absolutely save money in the long run, there are initial costs of installing a xeric landscape to consider. Beginning any landscape or home improvement project will always require startup costs, and xeriscaping is no different. Because xeriscaping is a complete overhaul of your yard, many different tools and techniques will have to be utilized, and costs will rise as complexity of the job increases.
Every landscaping company will have their own prices set for various xeriscaping components. Generally, there will be a per-square foot cost, equipment costs (including new plants), and labor costs that will give you your total. Rarer or foreign drought-tolerant plants will cost more than common or native plants, and the price you pay will directly correlate to the amount of your existing landscape you wish to replace.
It is important to remember that the more traditional landscaping you can replace with xeric features, the more money and water you will save. No matter what level of work you are looking to have done, a professional landscaping company will be able to help you maximize your water conservation and financial savings. For more information on xeriscaping in Colorado, call Lush Green Landscapes at (970) 201-1967.