The word ‘xeriscape’ was coined in 1981 by Denver Water. They combined the words ‘landscape’ and the Greek word for dry (xeros) to name the concept of landscaping that combines native plants and low water usage.
Xeriscape is based on seven principles:
- Planning and Design
- Soil Improvements
- Efficient Irrigation
- Plant Zones
- Turf Alternatives
We’ll look at how each principle is applied when it comes to xeriscaping your yard.
Planning and Design
The first step is to come up with a basic plan and design for your yard. Your type of yard and its conditions will determine how the final design will look and the best plants to use. The following should be kept in mind:
- The location of spigots, downspouts, and external electrical outlets
- Fences, walls, and other structures
- Existing lawn, garden, shrub masses, and flower beds
- Trees (both yours and your neighbors’ if they shade part of your yard)
Just knowing the outline of your current yard isn’t all you need. You also need to think about how you want to use your yard. Do you need space for a dog or for kids to play? Do you want a space for entertaining friends and family, or your own private garden?
Once you know the layout of your yard and how you want to use it, then you can start deciding on what to plant and where.
There are two main types of Front Range soils: clay and sand. Clay soil is denser than sandy soil and takes longer to both absorb and release water. Sandy soil doesn’t hold much water and needs irrigated often or it will dry out.
Planting non-native plants may require you to amend your soil for them to survive. Xeriscape often uses native plants to reduce the need of improving the soil for planting. After all, native plants are already adapted to Colorado’s climate.
How do you water a xeriscape? Do you water at all? Yes, you still need to water your xeriscape yard. However, the main advantage to xeriscape is a reduction in the amount of water used. By using native plants that don’t need much water, you create a drought-tolerant yard.
Watering by hand or an automatic sprinkler system will get the job done just fine. If you plan on installing an auto sprinkler system, it’s best to plan the installation at the same time you create your xeriscape design. Also, it’s a good idea to install a rain sensor; you don’t want to overwater your plants.
Not every area of your yard looks the same. Some places are sunny, some are more shaded. The terrain may be more sloped in spots over others. Consider this when deciding where to place plants. Group your plants based on sunlight and water needs. Remember to create with variety to increase the appeal to your yard.
Mulch has a variety of advantages. It holds in moisture and prevents evaporation, keeps roots cool, and reduces weeds. There are two types of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulch, such as wood chips, will decompose over time. This is excellent for new planting beds and helps them grow.
Using inorganic mulch, like rock, is great for windy areas. However, they retain and radiate heat. It’s best not to use this type of mulch in spots that get lots of direct sunlight. If you use landscaping fabric, avoid the black plastic. It keeps air and water from reaching plant roots.
Lush grass is hard to grow in Colorado’s climate and typically requires large amounts of water to keep it from wilting. Instead, you can save water by planting native grasses and low-water-use ground cover.
Xeriscape is not completely maintenance free. Plants will still need watered, weeded, and pruned. A new xeriscape will require some TLC at first, but the amount of time spent on tending to your new yard should decrease over time.
If you are interested in learning more about xeriscape, Denver Water’s website has more information on these principles as well as design ideas for specific types of yards.
Colorado Springs Utilities has also created free demonstration gardens for the public to view and learn.
You can also check out our previous article on why you should consider xeriscape and suggestions on native plants.
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