Xeriscape (pronounced zer-i’-scape) is a term coined in the early 1980s by Denver Water to describe the use of native and climate adapted plants in our yards. Up until then the typical yard was and still is a blanket of bluegrass with a shade tree in the middle. In Greeley, between 50-70% of our drinking water goes to keeping our landscape green. The seven principles of Xeriscape are what makes Xeriscape water efficient but following the steps make sense for any type of landscape.
7 Steps of Xeriscape
What Xeriscape Can Do For You?
Creating Microclimate Zones
Xeric Demonstration Gardens
7 Steps of Xeriscape
- Planning and Design
Before you ever pick up a shovel, pick up a pencil first. What will the yard be used for? Do you have children, dogs, cats, a vegetable garden, compost bin, clothes line? Will you be entertaining, playing games like horseshoes? Do you love the view of the mountains, but not the view of you neighbor’s hot tub? Do you have drainage problems? A first step is to sketch out your yard. Do several “goose egg studies” on where you might put play areas, gardens, beds, or service areas. Indicate places you do or don’t want screens. Work off of these studies for you final design. At this point, you can either go to a landscape architect or continue on your own.
- Soil Amendment
Soils can vary from one part of the yard to the next. Whether you have sand or clay the addition of organic matter (compost) will greater improve you chances for success. Our soils in this area tend to be fairly shallow with a layer of hard pan clay sometimes just inches below the surface. The proper amount of organic matter to add is approximately 4 cubic yards per 1000 square feet or a layer of 2-4 inches. Then till it in as deeply as you can 8-12 inches. If done properly from the start, you shouldn't have to till again which disturbs the natural cycle of the soil.
Organic matter in soil is important for a number of reasons, including retention of water. Compost (which is high in organic matter) is easily added to the soil and is an excellent storage system for moisture. Lack of initial soil preparation is a major reason for subsequent lawn and landscape failure.
- Reduced Turf
Evaluate your yard for its various microclimates. Bluegrass needs full sun, but a rocky south facing slope will be too dry to promote a healthy lawn. Eliminate turf in long narrow strips and on slopes. These typically hard to water area promote over spraying and runoff. These areas would be better planted with low water use shrubs, flowers, or ground covers.
- Efficient Irrigation
We tend to water more than we need. Drip irrigation and bubblers are efficient ways to water plants at the ground level to reduce evaporation. When turned on, the system will supply a continuous drip for a longer period than you would run your regular sprinkler heads. While it has been used to water turf, its most frequent application is on trees, shrubs, flower boarders and in vegetable gardens.
If you do have a clock controlled irrigation system, don’t just program it at the beginning of the season and forget it. The landscape is going to need less supplemental water in May than it will need in July. Reprogram it every month. Check your heads frequently to make sure that they are spraying the lawn and not the street or other hard surface.
- Appropriate Plant Selection
The best part of planning your Xeriscape is the selection of plants. We all have plants that we want to include even if we don’t know the names of them. Do some research, look at books, go to Xeriscape gardens. Of course you will get the greatest savings in water by sticking to the low water use plants, but you can incorporate higher water use plants too. Make sure these are grouped together and watered separately. You don’t want to water your junipers the same as your roses. With efficient planning and irrigation, roses and vegetable gardens can be included in your low water use yard.
- Use of Mulches
There are increasingly different schools of thought on the use of mulches. Mulches minimize evaporation, retard weed growth, slow erosion, and help prevent soil and temperature fluctuations. There are organic or inorganic mulches. Organic mulches include, wood chips, shavings, or straw. Inorganic mulches like rock can be used,but excessive rock can retain heat around your plants, and around the house. The use of landscape fabric, not plastic, is recommended for tree and shrub beds and under paths but not for use in perennial beds.
- Appropriate Maintenance
Proper pruning, weeding, fertilization and proper attention to the irrigation system will preserve and enhance the quality of your Xeriscape. A landscape adapted to the environment will require less maintenance, less fertilizer, and reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals. The principles of Xeriscape will assure an attractive, healthy landscape with the use of the ‘just right’ amount of water.
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What Can Xeriscape do for You?
Solve Landscape Problems
Xeriscape provides practical solutions to various climate and landscape concerns. Features can be incorporated that cool a home in the summer or warm it in the winter. Structures and plantings can be located to block wind and provide shelter from rain and snow, as well as control surface drainage.
Extend Water Supplies
Because Colorado's population is growing rapidly, water resources are being depleted. People want to live here because of the great weather, but that means only 8-15 inches of precipitation a year. We all have a stake in making efficient use of our limited water supplies. Xeriscape can reduce water consumption by 60%.
Reduce Pesticide Use
By using natives and climate adapted plants instead of exotics, you can decrease your pesticide use. Native plants have more resistance to pests and diseases than introduced exotics.
Increase Beauty and Resilience
Xeriscapes are beautiful as well as drought-tolerant. With their variety of colors, textures, and fragrances, they serve as an ongoing source of enjoyment and provide a delightful treat for the senses. Even during times of drought when water use is restricted, Xeriscape retain much of their beauty while conventional, water-thirsty landscapes suffer. In addition, well-designed, installed, and maintained Xeriscapes can increase property values up to 15 percent.
Give Something Back to Nature
Each year, as the growing human population encroaches on wildlife habitats, more and more plant and animal species disappear. Following the Xeriscape principles and through the careful selection of plants, we can lure birds, bees, butterflies and wildlife back into our yards. A more natural landscape has less impact on the environment, and often requires fewer pesticides. As an added benefit, Xeriscapes play a role in minimizing diversion of water from mountain habitats and maintaining water levels in aquifers.
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Creating Microclimate Zones
Each plant in the landscape has ideal conditions under which it thrives. These conditions have to do with the availability of sunlight, yearly temperature ranges, soil type, soil drainage, and water needs. Xeriscapes take advantage of the varying conditions and microclimates which exist in every landscape. Microclimates are created by differences in moisture, sun, shade, air movement and heat within a landscape. For example, reflected light from south and west facing structures creates high temperatures, which in turn increases the loss of water from nearby plantings. Unfortunately, plants are often selected solely for their aesthetic appearance, without consideration of environmental needs.
There are guidelines that should be used when creating hydrazones occurring in a Xeriscape. Each zone is based on the amount of water required for vegetation to flourish, and the examples shown here incorporate the seven xeriscape fundamentals.
Very Low Water Zone
This is the lowest water zone in a Xeriscape, and provides the greatest savings when compared to traditional landscaping. Here, irrigation is needed only to establish new plantings. Once they have been established, the plants in this zone require little, if any additional water. Plants in the very low water zone need to be selected carefully on the basis of minimal water use. Existing vegetation, which should not be irrigated, is also included in this zone.
Low Water Zone
Within this zone, careful selection of an efficient drip irrigation system will conserve large amounts of water. Plants growing in this zone will require more water than is available from natural precipitation - which need not be provided entirely by an irrigation system. Instead, take advantage of runoff from downspouts, driveways, or patios. During very dry periods, small amounts of supplemental irrigation may be needed.
Moderate Water Zone
Even though this zone uses the most water, it still uses less than most traditional landscapes. This zone should be kept small and functional in size. It could be considered a mini-oasis and is best used when incorporated into your landscape design as a focal point, or area of high use, such as the entrance area or the turf/lawn. Use a low water turf type grass in this area.
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Below are some books the Greeley Water Conservation Program has for check out to Greeley Water & Sewer Customers. For additional information, please e-mail us or visit our office at 1100 10th Street, Suite 300.
Durable Plants for the Garden by Plant Select
Durable Plants for the Garden, a Plant Select Guide, is a one of a kind publication that will revolutionize gardening. Plant Select is a unique and collaborative venture aimed at identifying and distributing the best plants for gardens from the High Plains to the intermountain region. For the first time, all 74 plants selected by Plant Select during their inaugural eleven year introduction program are presented in a single resource. Displayed in a user-friendly format, Durable Plants for the Garden , shares the story behind the selection of each plant as well as detailed plant descriptions with photographs and exquisite botanical illustrations, growing tips and anecdotal comments.
Xeriscape FlowerFan by Julie Fischer
Waterwise gardens are at your fingertips with the Xeriscape FlowerFan! Unique staggered pieces make it easy to visualize plant combinations as you sort plants by height, bloom time, water use, sun and soil needs. The FlowerFan introduces a basic color palette of water-thrifty, low-care perennials. (Some grasses and shrubs are also included for structure and foliage contrast).The Xeriscape FlowerFan features over six dozen low-care perennials, shrubs and native grasses. The fan has information on solutions for peripheral ares, slopes, edges, and narrow spaces. Other topics covered include: water zones, native grasses, bird havens, theme gardens, deer resistant plants, hummingbirds, plants for pathways, Xeriscape principles and more.
The Rocky Mountain Landscape Design Guide by The Colorado Nursery Association, Colorado State Cooperative Extension, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado
This guide is designed to help consumers understand and visualize various landscape designs and scenarios. It will also serve as a helpful tool when communicating with green industry professionals who can assist the homeowner with landscape design, plant selection and maintenance. Colorado's climate and growing conditions are diverse due to varying hardiness zones, soil types and elevation differences. All these factors influence the choices for the best plant material suited for a specific area. This 27-page booklet has information on how to plan and design the landscape of your dreams. The guide also features sample landscapes for small yards, patios, and large lots. There is also a section on restoration on ways new excitement can be added to an established landscape.
Annual & Perennial Plant Guide by The Colorado Nursery Association
The Colorado Nursery Association and Colorado Greenhouse Growers Association created this publication to assist homeowners and gardeners in the Rocky Mountain region select plants that will be successful in their landscape projects. The plants listed in this guide were specifically chosen for their ability to grow well in this area. This 60-page booklet features dozens of annuals, biennials, border perennials, ferns, ground covers, herbs, ornamental grasses, and even plant selections for your rock garden.
The Rocky Mountain Plant Guide by The Colorado Nursery Association
The Rocky Mountain Plant Guide is a valuable tool to help you attain the planting or landscaping design that you envision and to assist you with plant choices involved in developing your landscape. All the plants in this 37-page booklet have been successfully grown in the Rocky Mountain region. The booklet features trees, shrubs, roses, vines, perennials, ornamental grasses, ground covers and other plants perfectly suited to the Rocky Mountain climate.
At Home with Xeriscape by Xeriscape Colorado
A 24-page booklet that provides detailed information about Xeriscape. Covers the 7 principles of Xeriscape along with beautiful pictures, colorful illustrations and useful information. Design, installation, and maintenance for the do-it-yourselfer or preparation before visiting with a designer and/or contractor.
The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty by Lauren Springer
Experimenting in her northern Colorado garden, Ms. Springer has grown more than 1,100 species of flower and ornamental plants, learning through trial and error which ones can withstand drought, wind, hail, and temperature extremes. She also lists more than 1,000 other hardy species in over 60 different categories--some practical (such as annuals for dry, sunny gardens) and others artistic (linear perennials with cascading motion). An award-winning garden columnist for The Denver Post, Ms. Springer advocates an environmental approach to gardening, selecting plants in harmony with soil and climatic conditions. With more than 250 color photographs, The Undaunted Garden is as beautiful to look at as it is enlightening to read.
Passionate Gardening by Lauren Springer & Rob Proctor
Passionate Gardening takes the gardener through the seasons in a comprehensive, yet pleasurable and accessible way, as the authors celebrate a diversity of plants for every site and every season. They champion sound, ecologically friendly gardening techniques, from soil and water issues to pest management. They also offer up stories of their own horticultural adventures through their gardens’ evolutions, making this lively, information-packed reading with a personal, real touch. The authors share their gardening experiences with readers through essays and photographs on a variety of subjects. From early snows to slugs, the authors urge readers to make the most of the gardens they tend.
Penstemons by Robert Nold
This great book describes 270 species of penstemon. Written with a personal perspective, Robert Nold answers questions about penstemon varieties, hybrids, and growing patterns. A great sense of humor makes this an enjoyable book to read, even if you are a frustrated wannabe penstemon gardener. Penstemon is the largest genus endemic to North America, with examples to be found in every state in the continental U.S. Penstemons are particularly beloved by rock gardeners, but as noted in the foreword, they belong in every garden, since "one penstemon or another will thrive in virtually any microclimate a garden can contrive, from hot desert exposures to dank shade."
Water Wise Landscaping with Trees, Shrubs, and Vines by Jim Knopf
The book is intended to complement The Xeriscape Flower Gardener. Each book works well by itself, but focuses on different parts of Xeriscape. This book features woody plants with additional material on solving water supply dilemmas with water-wise landscaping. Jim Knopf is a landscape architect specializing in Rocky Mountain Xeriscape designs. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and lectures and teaches throughout the West.
Xeriscape Color Guide Edited by David Winger
Designed to be used as a companion to the Xeriscape Plant Guide, the Xeriscape Color Guide helps gardeners and landscapers design colorful, practical, and water- conscious environments. Flip open the Xeriscape Color Guide, and you’ll see at a glance that Kinnikinnick has pink flowers in early spring, red berries in the fall, and dark green leaves year-round. Easy-to-read and vividly illustrated charts show the colors of flowers, fruit, bark, and foliage during each season of the year as the color palettes of more than 100 water-wise plants are profiled. Each plant is cross-referenced to the Xeriscape Plant Guide for more in-depth information on characteristics and requirements. Together, these two books provide all the information you need to create colorful, water-wise gardens and landscapes. Published in cooperation with Denver Water and reviewed by professional horticulturists and landscapers, this highly acclaimed reference offers color swatches and basic information, including plant structure and land-use for trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, ground covers, and annuals, as well as a special section on shade plants. Also included are sample Xeriscape garden designs.
Xeriscape Flower Gardener by Jim Knopf
This book together with Waterwise Landscaping with Trees, Shrubs, and Vines, create a handy, two-volume, comprehensive Xeriscape guide for any region that relies on irrigation. Xeriscape, or water-efficient landscaping, offers the potential to create remarkably beautiful designs that feature low maintenance and environmentally sound gardening techniques. While Xeriscape principles can be applied to many settings, they are particularly appropriate in the arid West, where 40 to 60 percent of the drinking water supply is used for landscape irrigation. This book presents a fresh perspective on practicing the art and science of Xeriscaping for gardeners, landscape and building architects, garden center and nursery personnel, environmental groups, and real estate developers.
Xeriscape Handbook A How-To Guide to Natural Resource-Wise Gardening by Gail Weinstein
The Xeriscape Handbook provides hands-on advice in creating your own beautiful Xeriscape garden, no matter where you live. As water bills skyrocket and concern for conserving potable water increases, homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers seek alternatives. Xeriscape plant materials are water-conserving, beautiful, and thrive in specific environments. Xeriscape Handbook takes an easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach to creating a water-wise garden. For the first time, environmental gardening factors are combined with the seven principles of Xeriscape and good gardening techniques.
Xeriscape Plant Guide co-published by Denver Water, American WaterWorks Association, and Fulcrum Publishing
Xeriscape Plant Guide takes the mystery out of Xeriscape gardening, referencing more than 100 water-wise trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vines, ground cover, grasses, and shade plants chosen to add color and diversity to any landscape. Each portrait is illustrated with color botanical illustrations and photographs, detailing the characteristics, landscaping use, and growing conditions of the plant. With the increasing national concern over water consumption, gardeners and landscapers will find Xeriscaping a practical approach to creating a landscape in tune with the environment. Designed to be used as a companion to Xeriscape Color Guide.
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X-Rated Xeriscape Gardening
PlantTalk: Learning More about Xeriscaping
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