Think Dry 

Drought gardening for the water-impaired

With temperatures reaching into the 70s this week, it's definitely time to start thinking about how to keep the yard alive. Another hot, dry summer is expected, and with it, water restrictions that will dictate what we grow on our very own little patch of earth.

Serious gardeners welcome the challenge to cut back on thirsty turf areas and landscape with more water-efficient plantings. Garden-challenged individuals are fearful and skeptical, but needn't be. What's happening in Colorado Springs is merely a century-and-a-half delayed cultural imperative: We need to begin conserving water through creative landscaping, in other words, Xeriscaping.

It's an ugly little word, coined right up the road in Denver by environmental planner Nancy Leavitt. In 1981, conservationists from Denver Water joined with horticulturists from the state university system, landscape architects and planners to develop a plan for water-efficient gardening and came up with the basic fundamentals of Xeriscape. The idea took off like dandelion seed in a summer breeze and soon spread to California and Texas, then the rest of the country.

In Colorado Springs, we're lucky to have an exemplary Xeriscape demonstration garden, open to the public, at the Mesa Water Treatment Plant. Here, 1.75 acres host 64 tree species, 126 shrub species, 340 species of perennials, groundcovers and ornamental grasses, 12 low-water turf types and 71 species of plants native to Colorado. Conservation specialist Valerie Clubb of the demonstration garden, along with master gardeners from the CSU Cooperative Extension will be giving a series of presentations on Xeriscaping in upcoming weeks to familiarize Springs gardeners with the basic concepts and tools of water-wise gardening.

"We have always taught that landscaping of any kind is a phasing-in project," said Clubb, emphasizing that gardeners can begin Xeriscaping incrementally rather than tackling a whole yard in one growing season. "This really may just be a good year to plan, the first step in successful Xeriscaping. Watch and see if turf areas are dying out, if they will need to be replaced. If so, a place to begin is to just cover it with a thick layer of mulch to start breaking it down for planting later."

Clubb says there are many surefire plants that any Springs gardener can grow and that, once established, require very little water.

"Pine-leaf penstemon is one of my favorites," she said. "Hummingbirds and sphinx moths absolutely love it. It has a bright orange flower and a leaf like a pine. It stays rather evergreen throughout the year."

-- Kathryn Eastburn


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