gaillardia, blanket flower (15998 bytes)

Drought Tolerant Landscapes for Drought Stricken Coloradoans

By Megan Gross, Horticulture/Natural Resources Extension Agent, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

There’s no doubt it’s August. The sun scorches while the wind wicks and withers. Lawns are browning, leaves are falling, and flowers are calling it quits. Years like this can lead a person into serious consideration of going xeric in the landscape.

The thought of landscape renovation, however, can be quite intimidating. It implies expense, time, and... creativity. Note the word here is implies, not requires.

While this column is to promote a more "waterwise" yard, it is not about bluegrass bashing. I happen to be a fan of Kentucky Bluegrass lawns. The manicured look sort of tidies everything up. It’s also great on bare feet. Furthermore, a healthy lawn out-competes weeds, unlike some of the so-called "native grass and wildflower gardens".

But, let’s get real. No one needs five-thousand square feet of lawn, or one-thousand square feet for that matter. Particularly if it’s not being used for soccer, ghost-in-the-graveyard or hide-and-go-seek. So, how does one begin to minimize the monstrous lawn?

I like to move from the edges of the lawn inward. Does your lawn extend to the driveway, sidewalks and property line? Does it come in contact with the foundation of your home? If it does, then start ripping and replacing. Create texture in your landscape by turning the outer edges of your lawn into "waterwise" berms. Build them no less than three feet wide and eighteen inches tall.

Cover these berms with landscape fabric and mulch to minimize your fight against weeds. Then select a few drought tolerant shrubs and perennials to add color and more texture. Or perhaps you’d rather skip purchasing more plants and go with rocks and driftwood; driftwood is "in" this year, you know.

An excellent drought tolerant perennial for your waterwise berm is blanket flower, or Gallardia. It’s red and yellow daisy-like flower heads are about the only thing still blooming in this desert heat. Sage, specialty junipers, and drought-loving bunch grasses (such as western wheat grass or Indian ricegrass) would complement the natural landscape well, especially if you live near juniper-pinon plant communities.

You could even consider getting permission to transplant native plants from neighboring open space. Should you decide to transplant those that have been growing "in the wild", take note of this advice:

  • Younger plants transplant better than older plants.
  • Early spring is the best time to transplant (heat of the summer is the worst).
  • Get as many roots as you can.
  • Water immediately after transplanting.
  • Avoid the "white daisies" (Oxeye Daisy) and the "yellow snapdragons"(Yellow Toadflax); they are noxious weeds.

So think about it. Think about all the water going into keeping your water-loving plants lush and green. Then recall the scorching sun and wicking winds, and consider creating a landscape that makes more sense for our environment.

Photograph of blanket flower courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010