Deb Babcock: Xeriscape is not zero-scape

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

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To see Xeriscaping in action, stop into the Yampa River Botanic Park and check out several of the small gardens in the park especially designed to be water-wise. Gayle Noonan or any of the staff there can direct you to these gardens.

To obtain plant lists of Xeric perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees, stop into the Routt County Extension Office on Sixth Street to pick up free fact sheets on this topic.

— Did you know that in the average household, half of the water consumption goes to the landscaping we put in? This especially is true of landscapes with lots of grassy areas.

None of us want to turn our green and lush landscaping into a rock and desert look, which is what many people think Xeriscaping is all about. But there are ways to conserve water while maintaining a healthy, green area around our homes.

One step we can take is to look at our grassy areas, especially those that are difficult to water such as grass along fences, on slopes, or in narrow strips or irregular shapes where sprinkling the grass extends to areas that don’t need water, such as the fence, the driveway and sidewalk or runoff at the bottom of a slope.

You might consider taking out some of these hard-to-water areas and substituting plants that don’t require much water — such as sedums, thymes, and other groundcovers or spaced plantings of decorative grasses such as Calamagrostis Karl Foerster and other Zone 4 tall grasses.

Another step you can take to conserve water while maintaining a lush landscape is to check your irrigation system. Repair hoses and sprinkler heads that leak or are broken. Set your timer so that it won’t irrigate when the ground is wet or during a rainstorm.

Also, at least once a month, run your system during the daytime when you’re home so you can make sure it is spraying in the right areas and not shooting out on the street or sidewalk.

Lawns need more water than the rest of the landscape plants. It is best to water until you saturate the earth 6 inches, which encourages good root growth for the grass. On established lawns, this might be necessary only every five to six days. Mow the grass to 3 inches, and this will shade the earth and allow for less water loss through evaporation.

Shrubs and trees require moisture to their roots. As roots extend out laterally two to three times the height of the plant, the hose needs to be placed accordingly. Mulch trees for 2 feet around the trunk to conserve water.

Established perennial flowers require less water than annual flowers. Adding organic material such as compost or peat moss will improve the soil and decrease the amount of water necessary for the plant. Add 3 cubic yards of organic matter per 1,000 square feet and till it in 12 inches. Apply mulch to the flower beds, and the roots of the plants are kept cool and moist. Mulch also decreases the amount of weeds growing, which compete with the flowers for water.

Xeriscaping is all about grouping plants together that have similar water needs so you don’t underwater or overwater your plants, grass and shrubbery. It’s a way of landscaping that conserves water while allowing you to maintain a green, inviting area around your home.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825

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