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Having a lush garden in Denver’s semi-arid climate is no good for the environment—or your wallet. But you don’t have to go full rock garden to conserve. Xeriscaping, a term coined locally in the ’80s, saves water without sacrificing greenery. Follow these easy steps from local experts to start your own water-wise garden.
1. Survey the Yard
Phil Steinhauer, who owns Designscapes Colorado Inc., a landscape company focused on sustainable practices, recommends thinking about how water will collect in your yard before you plant anything. Water travels downhill, so greenery needing more hydration will typically perform better in lower areas. Put hardier plants uphill and in southern- and western-facing beds, which get more sun.
2. Prep Your Soil
Denver soils are typically sandy or clay-filled—and not conducive to deep root growth, Steinhauer says. He recommends homeowners use a rototiller to work compost, like aged manure, into the ground. This increases the soil’s water-holding capacity and promotes root growth: “Deep roots get water below the surface,” he says, “so you don’t have to rely on sprinklers during a drought.”
3. Choose the Right Plants
Each flower, shrub, and tree has slightly different needs. If one plant needs more water than another, don’t place the two plants next to each other, says Dan Johnson, curator of native plants at Denver Botanic Gardens. “If you do it that way, you’re making it more resource- and time-intensive, and the plants aren’t going to be happy, either.” (See plant picks below.)
Can It Get Any Easier?
Resource Central, a Boulder conservation nonprofit, has a solution for homeowners who don’t want to hire a landscaper, yet aren’t ready to go totally DIY on a water-wise yard. Garden In A Box (starting at $110) is packed with hardy, low-water shoots—plus a foolproof plant-by-number map for your xeric flower bed. Tip: Order early! The box is only available through mid-June.
Plant Select—a program run by Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado State University, and members of the regional horticultural industry—spotlights flora from the Rocky Mountain region and plains states that are hardy enough to survive at a mile high. Try these six for varied colors, heights, and textures.
1. Granita Raspberry Ice Plant
The vibrant, densely packed pink flowers, which grow 1 or 2 inches tall, bloom all season.
2. Corsican Violet
A 6- to 8-inch-tall perennial, the Corsican violet’s purple flowers show off all season long.
3. Spanish Gold Broom
Ensure this shrub, which can grow 3 to 4 feet tall, has good drainage, and you’ll be rewarded with pretty, yellow springtime blooms.
4. Korean Feather Reed Grass
Feathery summer blooms turn golden in the fall on this perennial ornamental grass, which can reach 3 feet tall.
5. Desert Moss
This evergreen grows 1 inch high and sprawls 10 to 14 inches, making it a great choice for year-round ground cover.
6. Bridges’ Penstemon
The scarlet trumpet-shaped flowers on this deer-resistant stunner grow up to 3 feet tall and thrive in full sun. Beauty bonus: The flowers attract hummingbirds.
Discover more plants at plantselect.org.
The approximate percentage of water the average homeowner can save per year by switching from a lawn to a xeriscaped yard, according to Denver Water.
We get it: Lawns can be nice, especially if you have kids or dogs. But unless you want to spend thousands each year to maintain your Kentucky bluegrass, you need an alternative designed to withstand Colorado’s climate. Plant Select recently introduced drought-resistant Dog Tuff grass, which holds up to running feet (kids’ and pups’) and full, hot sun. If possible, install turf at the bottom of a hill to take advantage of natural water drainage.