Rosa rugosa 'Hansa', a drought tolerant rose (19982 bytes) Xeriscape: Water-Saving Garden

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By Judy Sedbrook, Colorado Master Gardener(sm), Denver County

As our perceptions about the use and value of water began to change in the later part of this century, we developed new ideas about gardening. These new concepts have allowed us to reduce water needs by altering the landscape.

The term given to this approach to gardening is called "Xeriscape". Xeriscape means "water conservation through creative landscaping." It is a registered trademark of the Denver Water Board of Denver, Colorado, an organization dedicated to water conservation.

In making use of xeriscape, we benefit by reducing water consumption, landscape maintenance, use of fertilizers and pesticides.

The principles associated with the concept of xeriscape include appropriate planing and design, soil improvement, more efficient irrigation, practical turf areas, appropriate plant selection, use of mulches, and maintenance.

An important part of using the xeriscape concept is to group plants with similar water needs together in beds. This allows them to be watered as needed with little waste of water.

The use of beds also enables the easy installation of a drip irrigation system. This kind of watering system permits application of water directly to the plants, thus reducing water consumption as much as 60 percent over sprinkler irrigation. Kits for installing drip systems are available from nurseries and garden centers.

Plants that either avoid or tolerate dry conditions should be chosen. Such plants are drought tolerant only once they have become established and watering is needed the first year or two after planting. Plant annuals at least 12 inches apart and perennials 18 to 24 inches apart. Crowding plants too close together results in competition for water.

Soil, whether it is clay or sandy, should be amended with organic material (compost, well-rotted manure, or peatmoss) to promote percolation and retention. If you are unsure as to the quality of your soil, instructions on obtaining a soil test are available through your local cooperative extension.

Xeriscape beds should be graded to allow water to soak into the soil and be used by plants rather than being allowed to run off. Raised beds tend to dry out more quickly and are discouraged.

Mulch plays an important part in the xeriscape garden. Mulching can reduce water demand by as much as 40 percent, keeps the soil cooler, eliminates weed competition, and reduces evaporation from the soil surface.

From the standpoint of water use, the lawn is the largest and most demanding part of the landscape. Lawn size should be limited as much as possible. You might also want to consider the use of turfgrasses other than Kentucky Bluegrass.

Remember, beauty does not have to be sacrificed when establishing a xeriscape landscape.When done correctly, they look no different than the traditional landscape. PHOTO

Photograph of Rosa rugosa 'Hansa', a drought tolerant rose, by Duane Howell.

CSU Fact Sheets are available to help you in planting a xeriscape landscape:

7.228 Xeriscaping, creative landscaping

7.229 Xeriscaping, trees and shrubs

7.230 Xeriscaping, ground cover plants

7.231 Xeriscaping, garden flowers

7.232 Ornamental grasses

7.233 Wildflowers in Colorado

7.234 Xeriscaping, retrofit your yard

More information on Xeriscape is available from Xeriscape Colorado!, Inc.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010