Bring On The Blooms

Create colorful landscapes with water-friendly trees and plants


Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on how to plan and develop a low-water-use landscape for your home.

by Barbara Borscheit
special to the roundup
Spring seems to be arriving a little early this year, and with the warm days, we can resume our gardening efforts around our homes.

It seems as if the issue of water is on the tip of everyone's tongue these days, so while planning spring gardening chores, why not consider saving water, too?

The Denver Water Department developed a process in the 1980s called "Xeriscape" that describes water conservation through creative landscaping.

When we consider xeric conditions, we often visualize a scene of parched soil, twiggy plants and various types of cacti, covered with thorns. In addition to this unpleasant thought, most of the material that is available on the subject of Xeriscape is aimed at desert gardeners. But let's take a closer look.

We don't live in a desert, but we do experience very hot days in the summer. We are presently experiencing extremely dry conditions, with several years of below-average rain and snowfall.

Gardening using xeric techniques can be accomplished in any climate, and a xeric garden doesn't have to be sparse or uninviting. A Xeriscape can be a haven for wildlife, attracting songbirds and small animals such as lizards, chipmunks and squirrels. Foliage can be lush, and flowers plentiful.

By choosing the right type of plants, the right varieties for our elevation and climate, and learning the techniques of Xeriscape, our Rim country gardens can be better than ever.

The only thing missing in a xeric-based landscape is the use of inappropriate amounts of water.

Xeric maintenance is minimal, giving us more time to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Considering the high cost of city water and the concern of over-pumping ground water we all face today, this gardening technique offers lots of incentives for high country gardeners.

Your present landscape can be slowly converted to a Xeriscape or you can Xeriscape from scratch. In either case, the first step is to make a plan.

1. Create zones for water use. Determine what sorts of plants are important to you, such as trees, shrubs, ground covers, etc.

Plan to use plants that require the most water in the coolest or shadiest areas, such as the north or east side of your home. Don't mix plants with different watering needs.

2. Establish practical lawn areas.

According to the experts, lawns are resource wasters. They require large quantities of water, fertilizer, weed killers and pesticides, not to mention the energy and noise pollution involved to keep them mowed.

How about considering a lovely, herbaceous flowering or aromatic low-growing ground cover instead? If you must have turf, try buffalo grass (buchloe dactyloides) which is reputed to use little water, be pest resistant and require minimal mowing.

3. Before you begin to plant, improve the soil by adding organic material such as compost to help the soil hold the water you do use.

4. Use mulch. Mulches keep soil cool and moist, help prevent weeds and help catch rain water. In addition, organic mulches encourage earthworms, and add nutrients to the soil.

5. Choose plants that have minimal water requirements. In our climate zone, we have hundreds of trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flower species that will grow here and bloom year after year with little or no water once they're established.

6. Design efficient water systems utilizing soaker hoses or drip technology, and create ways to harvest rain and snow runoff.

7. Properly maintain your garden.

Remove weeds, use fertilizers thriftily, and quickly eradicate pests before they become a problem.

Come to the Water-Wise Gardening and Landscape Festival from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at Green Valley Park. The festival will feature hands-on activities and demonstrations for the whole family.

Next Tuesday: Designing the water-wise garden.

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