Lamium and red valerian (26915 bytes)


Common Sense Xeriscaping for Small Lot Owners

By Margaret Kelly, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Advanced Master Gardener, Denver County

It's taken awhile, but Xeriscape, landscaping for water savings as well as beauty, has come into its own.

But, what's a homeowner to do? Tear out everything you have and start over, in the interest of saving water?

No. Such drastic measures probably aren't needed. Here are some guidelines that apply especially to owners of small-to-average-sized lots with traditional landscapes.

  • Don't do it all at once. Think about your landscape in pieces. Following are relatively inexpensive, weekend-manageable projects to get you started.

  • Think waste-free. Consider removing a few feet of the grass along the driveway and sidewalk. Plant these areas with non-thirsty ground cover plants, small shrubs or perennial flowers. This allows these buffer areas to soak up water from lawn watering that normally would fall on the pavement and run off into the street.

  • Consider replacing the lawn on steep slopes with a rock garden, tiered wall, or low-spreading evergreens. As with pavement buffer plantings, the water that runs down the slope from other parts of the yard will be captured by these plants.

  • Think ease and economy. Try to re-group flowers and other plants so the yard is organized into different water use zones. Grouping or "zoning" plants with similar water requirements allows you to meet their high, medium or low-water needs so some plants in the group are not overwatered while others are underwatered. To further conserve moisture, use mulches between shrubs, flowers and in the vegetable garden.

  • Research an inexpensive, labor saving drip or soaker water system for non-turf areas.

  • Think limits. You may have more lawn than you want. You could remove turf from narrow, hard-to-water strips and replace it with pretty, drought-tolerant plants. Remove turf from between and behind shrubs; replace it with mulch.

  • Now, take a walk through your yard. Give it a second look. You will come up with ideas of your own. Be realistic about time and money. Xeriscaping slowly lets you allocate both over a span of years.

  • Research new plants you're considering. There are a lot of books out there, and if you don't find what you need, ask the nursery or landscape experts. Find out the sun/shade requirements, cost, maintenance needs, and water requirements of the plants you're considering. Ask also about flower color and blooming time, leaf color and shape.

A good place to start your research is at your county Cooperative Extension office. Ask for a fact sheet, "Xeriscaping: how to retrofit your yard to reduce water use."

In your own little piece of this world, get the most out of every gallon of water you apply to the landscape - think xeriscape!

Photograph of Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' and Centranthus ruber Red Valerian, xeriscape plants for shade, by Connie Rayor.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010