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Colorado Xeriscape Design

Xeriscaping: Less Water, Less Effort

As a Denver homeowner, you may be looking for ways to create a beautiful landscape that reduces maintenance and uses less water. Green Mountain offers practical xeriscaping services that conserve natural resources, require less maintenance, and enhance the look of your property. Additionally, the water savings means that you’ll have to pay less to your water providers (like Denver Water).

Many people envision a landscape using xeriscape principles as one full of rocks and cactus. Actually, xeriscapes are full of color, texture, fragrance, and variety.

Xeriscape Landscape Defined

The Denver metro area and Colorado’s front range are located in a xeric / semi arid climate. The word “xeriscape” comes from Greek. “Xeros” means dry, and “scape” refers to the view or look of the landscape.

The concept, conceived by Denver Water in 1981, focuses on creating landscapes that reduce watering needs by using grasses, shrubs, and trees that flourish in drier environments. The layout and design consider slope, topography, exposure to the sun, soils, and the goals of the property owner.

You can select greenery that complements the unique attributes of your property. A vast range of xeriscape plants thrives in this area of Colorado, including trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, ground covers, and grasses. Mixing types of vegetation creates an attractive street appeal and a welcoming, pleasant environment around your home. A xeric landscape results in an outdoor space with rocks, mulch and drought tolerant plants.

Xeriscaped Backyard with Stones, Mulch and Drought Resistant Plants
A xersiscaped back yard with rocks, mulch and drought resistant plants

Seven Principles of Xeriscape Design

Seven xeriscape principles work together to create an attractive landscape design that conserves water:

1. Proper Planning and Landscape Design

Consider your needs as you plan, including recreation, back yard activities, aesthetics, and environmental concerns. Look at grading, paving, shade, sunlight, and runoff patterns.

2. Ground Analysis and Improvements

Soils retain 30% more moisture by adding compost. Mixing clays, sand, and silt create loam that fosters plant growth.

3. Appropriate plant selection

Consider your needs as you plan, including recreation, back yard activities, aesthetics, and environmental concerns. Look at grading, paving, shade, sunlight, and runoff patterns.

4. Practical Turf Areas

Use turf effectively for texture, aesthetics, children’s play places, and high-traffic locations. Place turf grass in locations to take advantage of and enhance natural drainage.

5. Efficient Irrigation

Consider water use methods that distribute moisture evenly and slowly, reduce runoff, and minimize evaporation. Effective systems include drip irrigation, French drains, and low-flow sprinklers.

6. Mulch

Healthy bedding improves moisture conservation, reduces evaporation, promotes healthy root growth, reduces temperature variations, and retards soil loss.

7. Appropriate Maintenance

Xeriscape design requires less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. Pruning and weeding foster the growth of desired flora. Irrigation systems must be maintained to benefit from conservation efforts.
Xeriscaped yard - mulch, grantie rocks
Mulch - like that used on this berm - helps to retain moisture and keep the soil in place

Benefits of Landscaping with Native Colorado Plants

Selecting xeric plants is pivotal. Choose grasses, shrubs, and trees that thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid environment creates a vegetation community that provides many benefits, including managing stormwater runoff, reducing the amount of irrigation, saving energy, and retarding erosion.

The result is an aesthetically pleasing landscape tailored to suit your property and sense of beauty. Easy maintenance is an added benefit.

Benefit: Aesthetically Pleasing

A well-planned and designed xeriscape is beautiful to look at. Mixing flora of various heights and proportions balances the scale and creates a layered effect that adds interest to the yard.

Deciduous trees provide shade during hot summer months, color during the fall and allow warm sunlight to penetrate the building shell and grounds during winter. Herbs add fragrance and color.
Incorporating berms, improving grading, and adding terracing expand the horizontal extent of the garden, which increases usable space. Raising the ground level in selected places and using vegetation as a natural screen enhances privacy.

Benefit: Hardy, Adapted to the Local Environment

Native plants are well-adapted to the climate and soils of the Denver area. They are hardy, require less moisture, and complement Colorado’s natural environment. They better resist disease and infestations by pests than many introduced species.

You can select vegetation that is suited to the ground on your property. Flowers, grasses, ground cover, and shrubs also benefit soils by spreading roots that anchor topsoil and aerate the substrate.

Benefit: Reduce the Need for Irrigation

Xeriscaping requires less water for vegetation to thrive. Modifying the grade of slopes reduces runoff and evaporation.
With a well-designed irrigation and sprinkler system, watering can be reduced by approximately 50% during much of the year and as much as 70% during summer months. Turf plays an important, positive role in a well-designed xeriscape.

However, turf requires more moisture than most plantings for healthy root growth. A well-designed irrigation system should uniformly disperse moisture to foster turf root growth. Improving soil quality promotes deep roots.

Benefit: Protect the Environment

A well-designed landscape reduces ground erosion. Terracing steep slopes promote better drainage and keeps soils in place.
Instead of runoff entering storm sewers and nearby bodies of water, it trickles through topsoil into the substrate, which naturally filters out pollutants. The dense root structure of turf plays an important role in filtration.
By using turf in selected spaces and filling out the landscape with greenery that doesn’t require mowing, fewer power tools are needed, which reduces noise and the use of fossil fuels.

Benefit: Easy Maintenance

Well-planned xeriscape designs reduce maintenance. Studies show that xeriscapes require approximately 26% less labor to maintain them.

Planning the type and placement of grasses and shrubs reduces weeding, pruning, and fertilizing. Native plants are already adapted to the soils, temperatures, and amount of local rainfall. 

If you do not want seasonal litter from trees and shrubs, select evergreens or species that drop fewer leaves, fruits, and other debris.
Ash Tree in Arvada Front Yard
This xeriscaped front yard in Arvada requires very little water - and is virtually maintenance-free

Benefit: Saves Energy

Planting trees, shrubs, and other vegetation around your home reduces ground temperatures in the summer and shades roofs, driveways, foundations, and the building shell. Well-planned landscaping reduces the amount of energy required to cool your home by as much as 50% and saves wear and tear on air conditioning equipment.

In the winter, trees and shrubs planted as windbreaks reduce home heating costs because windbreaks reduce the speed of the wind as it approaches your home. Properly done, windbreaks lift the wind so that it flows over your home instead of across it. 

Windbreaks also prevent snow from blowing up against your home. Planting thickets of shrubs and trees create a natural barrier that discourages incursion of deer and other livestock that often damage xeriscape planting areas.

Planning a Xeriscape Garden

If you are planning to renovate your yard using xeriscape principles, start by making a drawing to scale that shows all elements of your property, including patios, driveways, sidewalks, existing trees, and buildings. Include outdoor spigots, electrical outlets, underground pipes, utility lines, downspouts, walls, and fences. 

If you already have flower beds, shrubs, turf, or other established vegetation, include this in the plan. You may decide to phase the development of your new drought-resistant plot over several seasons. However, having a master plan will help you conceptualize the space and pace expansion.
It pays to work with a landscape professional to plan your xeriscape. Professionals will evaluate the slope and ground on your property and recommend ways to even out grade and improve soil quality.
Their knowledge and experience in plant selection and placement can enhance the look and durability of your property’s low-water spaces. They know how long it takes for vegetation to become established, moisture requirements, and intensity of upkeep.
Professionals can also evaluate your sprinkler system and recommend ways to correct problems, including spray landing on pavement and rate of flow.

A landscape professional will talk with you about how you use your yard, your sense of beauty, budget, and long-term needs. They also provide information about how to irrigate specific plants and trees and how to maximize moisture.

Once your plan is in place, a professional can help you acquire materials, including mulch, rocks, and vegetation. Some components of implementing the plan can be easily accomplished as do-it-yourself projects. However, you may prefer that a professional undertake other components, such as planting new trees, installing paving, installing irrigation systems, or creating terraces and raised areas.

Xeriscape Plants Suitable for Denver's Climate

Drought-tolerant greenery makes efficient use of available moisture. If you want to use native vegetation, one important thing to keep in mind is that not all native plants are drought resistant.

Save Water With Low Moisture Requirements

As you get your drought-resistant grass, trees, and shrubs, be sure to inquire about their moisture requirements. The placement of flora is also important.
Perennials and ground covers that require little moisture work well on steep slopes. They also help anchor the earth to protect against erosion and are easier to maintain than a turf lawn.
Trees and shrubs may require several seasons to become established. During this time, irrigation needs are higher. After they settle in, you will see a decrease in watering requirements.

Trees and Shrubs

Mixing different sizes and types of evergreen and deciduous trees creates a varied and interesting look. If you plant new trees, consider their full height and spread when mature.

Tree Planting Considerations

Several varieties of pine, juniper, and oak native to Colorado grow 40 feet tall and have canopy spreads between 25 and 40 feet. Large trees should be planted far enough away from your home or other buildings so that they do not harm the building’s exterior or damage sidewalks and driveways as they mature.
Maples, hawthorns, and several fruit trees are smaller, between 15 and 25 feet tall, with attractive leaves and flowers. Fruit trees are fragrant and give seasonal fruit.

Shrub Selection

Shrubs that work well in the area include several varieties of sage, barberry, sumac, and mountain mahogany. The variations in leaf color, shape, and size add to the scale and look of the landscape.
Many produce seasonal flowers and berries that attract birds, butterflies, and honeybees. If wildlife is a problem in your neighborhood, go see your local nursery about vegetation that discourages unwanted critters.

Ground Covers and Flowers

Ground covers work well in spaces that are hard to maintain, such as near driveways, around sidewalks, and on steep slopes. Many are well-suited to western and southern exposures, particularly locations that get more sun and heat.
They can be used instead of turf in spots that are hard to mow or maintain. Plant shade-tolerant ground covers under trees or near shrubs to add interest and variety.
Agaves, cacti, and succulents adapt well in rocky spots and in the harsh, dry ground with gravel or rocks. Grasses, penstemon, sages, and sedums are a few types of low-growing vegetation that like full sun. Also consider herbs, such as mint, thyme, oregano, and sage, which are fragrant and can be used in cooking.
There are many flowering grasses and shrubs that add beauty to a water-wise garden, including species from high-altitude climates from other parts of the world. The variety spans styles from traditional English gardens to rocky western landscapes.
Local nurseries can aid you with plant selection that complements the look you want, such as lavender, several types of blanket flowers, black-eyed-Susans, sedums, and coneflowers.

Rocks and Gravel

Although rocks and gravel contribute to a natural look, they absorb heat, which can increase ground temperatures. Placing them too close to your home increases air temperatures around the building, which negates the beneficial cooling effects of vegetation.
Avoid using them in sunny exposures close to buildings. Instead, use wood chips or other organic materials in sunny spots.
Gravel and rocks work well on slopes and terraces and as footpaths. Small areas of gravel or clusters of rocks within an expanse of turf, under trees, or along a driveway create a focal point to display colorful flowers, grasses, and shrubs.
Rocks used on a slope for a low maintenance solution to erosion that looks great
Situating a rock garden on a slope or terrace adds texture and interest to your xeriscaping. Intersperse rocks with an array of plants, such as grasses, ground covers, annual and perennial flowers and small evergreen shrubs to give a natural look. Experts recommend limiting the size of rock beds because controlling weeds can be difficult.
Most vegetation that grows well in a rock garden requires sufficient drainage. We recommend you see a landscaping professional who can recommend ways to improve soil and select greenery best suited to these locations.
One or more xeriscape beds can enhance the look of your property. It may take several seasons to make all the changes you envision for your yard.
Planning, planting, and maintaining your xeriscape can be a fun activity for your entire household. The great variety of flora available lets you select those that appeal to your sense of beauty and complement your lifestyle. Your garden may evolve as trees and shrubs become established and you refine the look


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