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Retrofitting Your Landscape to Conserve Water

Dr. James R. Feucht Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Landscape Plants Specialist 

We can conserve water in an existing landscape by reducing irrigated turfgrass areas, especially on steep slopes, south and west exposures and narrow parking strips.

It takes minimal effort and cost to plant these areas with ground covers or other attractive plants. Resist the temptation, however, to cover large areas with black plastic and rocks. While rock-covered areas may reduce water needs, they also increase heat radiation and result in wasteful surface run-off of natural rainfall.

Here's an easy way to convert a lawn to other ground covers. Outline the area with inexpensive landscape ties, sinking them into a shallow trench. The ties, if correctly installed, also will serve as a mower edge.

Use glyphosate (Roundup, Kleenup) to kill the grass in the area you wish to convert. Allow seven days for the grass to turn off-color. Plant low water requiring ground covers and spaced them according to the type and size used. The glyphosate will not injure these new plants. Creeping junipers are ideal because they give year-around cover and tolerate drought well.

Leave dead grass between plants. Cover with a four-inch mulch of woodchips. The dead grass helps reduce erosion, especially on slopes. It also provides temporary anchor for the wood chips.

To ensure long-range weed control, install breathable fabric available in garden centers. Add enough mulch to hide the fabric. Don't use black plastic. It smothers roots and increases water run-off.

If you have an underground sprinkler system, install inexpensive shut-off valves in the line that enters the converted area. Leave sprinkler heads in place. This will allow you to water the new plants as needed, but gradually "wean" them to little or no supplemental water.

Photograph showing xeriscape where turfgrass used to grow, courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010