Home and Hood: Xeriscaping 101: Climate-Savvy Landscaping

Published on: June 26th, 2017

Despite its dry climate, the Rocky Mountain region is home to a variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees, many of which provide lush foliage year-round. Xeriscaping is a landscaping method that harnesses the resilience of these drought-tolerant plants. Relying on well-planned irrigation systems and natural rainfall, xeriscaped gardens use significantly less water than traditional gardens.

Here’s a starter on the plants that work well with little water and lots of light:

Flowers

Xeriscaped gardens are much more than a scattering of rocks or a cluster of succulents. In fact, colorful flowers are abundant in Colorado, and these can be xeriscaped in all levels of sun and shade.

Penstemon // The Rocky Mountain penstemon flaunts a tall stalk of blue-purple flowers. Also known as the Beardtongue, Penstemons like full sun and can be harmed by too much fertilizer. As an added bonus, the flower is a first class choice for attracting hummingbirds.

Blanket Flower // These fiery orange and yellow flowers simply adore the heat, and grouping them in a designated area helps reveal their potential as a groundcover plant. You can also let the blanket flower grow across rock gardens and border fronts to brighten things up.

Bee Balm // Monarda, more commonly referred to as bee balm, is a vibrant high plains shrub sure to attract bees, butterflies and birds. The sun-loving flower has a tendency to grow aggressively, so plant it in the middle or back of a plot where is has room to flourish.

Shrubs

Many native shrub species are bursting with leaves, berries, and flowers. Shrubs commonly xeriscaped in Colorado include blue elderberry, fernbush and Mojave sage.

Yucca // Best when exposed to full sun, the yucca blooms a stalk of white flowers in summer and remains green year-round. This easygoing evergreen isn’t picky about light, but prefers well-draining soil. Keep in mind that the yucca’s leaves are sharp, so it’s best planted away from walking paths.

Apache Plume // Both showy and sturdy, Apache Plume is known for its strong roots and ability to withstand the elements. Its natural habitat is in the desert hills, so it fares well on slopes, and the dainty white flowers and feathery seeds make it a well-performing border plant.

Oregon Grape Holly // The fruitful Oregon Grape Holly is certain to diversify your shrub mix. The staple grows both flowers and berries — the latter being perfect for wine and jam. Oregon Grape Holly will also satisfy your privacy needs: Its fast growing nature makes it a robust hedge.

Trees

Trees are less common in dry landscapes because they require more water. However, this can be overcome by planting trees near one another, which increases humidity level and retains soil moisture.

Western Catalpa // The stately catalpa is one of the best oak varieties for dry climates, and often steals the spotlight anywhere its planted. Since it can grow up to 60 feet tall and have a spread of 30 feet, plant it away from full-sun plants that might suffer beneath its shade.

Chokecherry // These trees are popular in residential areas due to their white flowers, changing leaf colors and fruit-bearing nature. The chokecherry is a smaller tree, but it is strong and resilient in dry climates. It works best in woodland landscapes or alongside shrub borders.

Brandywine Crabapple // Among the many crabapple trees one can choose from, the Brandywine’s double blooms make it a superior option. This deciduous tree’s sweet-smelling spring flowers give way to green crabapples in the fall and it can thrive almost anywhere it’s planted — just be sure that falling fruit won’t damage a plant below.

Xeriscaping Resources

Garden in a Box // Known as “plant-by-number” gardens, these do-it-yourself xeriscaping kits can reduce water use by up to 60 percent. Garden in a Box plans are created by professional landscape designers and include a variety of drought-tolerant plants. The Center for ReSource Conservation offers garden and some local water providers offer discounts on the kits. [It appears these will be sold out by press time, but check out their website for ideas.]

Do it Yourself Irrigation Audit Kit // The Town of Erie wants to make irrigation easier by offering DIY audit kits for rent. The kits include tools for measuring water pressure, root depth and sprinkler output. Residents can check out kits from the Department of Public Works and use them for a week at a time.

Boulder County Native Plant Demonstration Garden // At 40 feet in diameter, this native plant garden provides an exemplary display of native flowers, shrubs and trees. The garden is an educational resource for those seeking more information on xeriscaping and native plants. Visit the garden at the Boulder County Extension any time of the day.

The Bees Needs // The Bees Needs is a citizen science project presented by CU Boulder’s Museum of Natural History. The Bees Needs online resource is a go-to if you want to learn more about how to xeriscape with bee-friendly plants.

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