russian sage (33947 bytes)

Xeriscape: Six New Plants

By Fran Chasson, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

Xeriscape is now a key word in the dictionary of Colorado gardeners.

In addition to conserving water, this method of landscaping saves money and requires less maintenance than conventional gardening. Savings of 30 percent on annual water bills are common with Xeriscape conversions, and often there is less need for chemical fertilizers and insecticides.

Since l987, the Denver Water Department, in cooperation with Xeriscape Colorado and Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, has published an annual Plant Focus Flyer to highlight six plants that fit into the Xeriscape concept. These are the plant recommendations for l990:

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifloia) is a shrub-like perennial, maturing to a 3 1/2 to 5 foot height and a 5 foot spread with dense spikes of blue flowers in late summer. You can use it as a flowering summer hedge or as an accent plant in a perennial garden, where its fine-textured, silver grey stems and foliage will enhance dark green and blue-green plantings.

Golden Currant (Ribes aureum) is a versatile shrub that can be sheared to use as a low hedge or allowed to mature to a 3 to 6 foot height and a 4 foot spread. Its foliage is smooth yellow-green with rose-red fall color. It blooms fragrant yellow flowers in spring and produces a berry useful for making jam or jelly.

Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) is a dense, evergreen creeper, 2 to 3 inches tall with an 8 to l0 inch spread. It is vigorous and long-lived, making it useful for planting around paving in paths, as a cover for bulbs and in herb and rock gardens.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is a large shade tree, much like an elm. It matures in 50 years to a 50 to 60 foot height and spread. A long-lived tree, it is especially valuable for songbird food and cover. Planted as a street tree, its roots will not heave walks or curbs.

Miscanthus Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) grows to a height and width of 4 feet and produces a white feathery plume to 6 feet. Used as an accent plant, divider, in flower gardens or by the water, its fine-textured foliage enhances the landscape. Birds feed on its seeds in winter.

New Mexican privet (Forestiera neomexicana) is a shrub-tree growing to 8 to l5 feet high with a 6 to 8 foot spread. Light green in foliage, it can be clipped to a formal hedge or pruned to form a small tree. If not clipped, it produces small yellow flowers in spring and blue-black berries relished by birds.

Water requirements for all of these plants are low to medium-low. Most do best in full sun and tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.

Use the plants in conjunction with the seven principles of Xeriscaping. They are: planning and design; soil improvement; limiting turf areas; efficient irrigation; use of mulches; use of low water-requiring plants, and appropriate maintenance.

Photograph of Russian sage courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010