Years of continuous drought have raised awareness about water use and made Xeriscape more than a passing fad. Consumers continue to request stunning plants and hardscape elements that minimize water use. Xeric landscapes can be lush and beautiful when all seven Xeriscape principles are employed in a landscape. Denver Water coined the term XeriscapeTM in 1981 and still holds the trademark for the word. A group led by Denver Water, including ALCC members, developed the seven Xeriscape principles. 

Seven Principles of Xeriscape 

  1. Plan and design landscaping comprehensively. Start with a site inventory and analysis, where existing conditions such as drainage, exposures, soil types, views, and existing plants are noted. Next, develop a list of activities and support facilities that need to be included in the design. Continue by diagramming possible locations for the activities from the program, while also allowing for planned traffic patterns and access or screening. Finally, use this information to develop a plan that integrates plants into the overall scheme.
  2. Evaluate soil and improve, if necessary. Improve soil before planting and installing the irrigation system. Soil improvement promotes better absorption of water, improved water-holding capacity and drainage of the soils. It also allows for better oxygen transfer within the root zone.
  3. Create practical turf areas. Include turf areas where they provide defined functions (i.e., recreation, traffic areas). Grass is best separated from plantings of trees, shrubs, ground covers and flowers so it can be watered separately. Often, portions of turf areas can be replaced with more water-efficient ground covers and mulches. Alternative plants for certain bluegrass areas may include tall fescue, buffalograss, blue grama and wheat grass.
  4. Use appropriate plants and group according to their water needs (i.e., "hydrozoning"). Plants with lower water requirements, such as native species adapted to Colorado's climate, should be considered. However, other plants can have a place in xeriscape designs, even if they require larger amounts of water. The key is to use those plants in appropriate locations and not to interplant them with others that have very different, lower-water requirements. In effect, the groupings of plants are separated into zones based on their water requirements, which allows them to be irrigated efficiently
  5. Water efficiently with a properly designed irrigation system. Irrigate according to the condition of the plants, not on a fixed schedule. Well-planned sprinkler systems can save water when properly installed and operated. Turf areas should be watered separately from beds, shrubs and trees. Apply only as much water as the soil can absorb to avoid runoff. Trees, shrubs, flowers and ground covers can be watered more efficiently with low-volume drip emitters. To promote deep rooting, water infrequently, but deeply.
  6. Use organic mulches to reduce surface evaporation of water and weeds. Mulched planting beds are an ideal replacement for expansive turf areas. Mulches cover and reduce temperature extremes in the soil, minimize evaporation, reduce weed growth and slow erosion. Mulches also provide landscape interest. Organic mulches are typically bark chips, wood grindings or pole peelings. Inorganic mulches include rock and various gravel products. Place mulch directly on the soil or on breathable fabric. Do not use impermeable sheet plastic beneath mulched areas. 
  7. Practice appropriate landscape maintenance. Proper pruning, weeding, mowing and fertilization, plus attention to the irrigation system, are needed to maximize water savings. Regular maintenance preserves the intended beauty of the landscape and saves water and maintenance costs. Always water according to plant needs and current soil moisture conditions, and not on a rigid schedule.

 To learn about plants that might do well in your water-wise landscape, view the current plant guide from Plant Select

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