To the Last Drop: Xeriscape and sustainable landscaping

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Businesses and homeowners can reap major water conservation benefits as well as cost savings by implementing sustainable landscape practices. Similar to sustainable building, the focus is on reducing waste and pollution, conserving water and energy and using recycled materials.

What is sustainable landscaping? Although definitions vary, from an ecological perspective human-created sustainable landscapes are aesthetic environments that are in balance with the local ecosystem and require minimal fertilizers, pesticides and water.

“Xera” is from the Greek word meaning “dry.” Xeriscape gardens are not just rocks; they can incorporate colorful and attractive plants that bloom season-long. Hardscapes can incorporate reused or repurposed materials. There are seven basic principles of xeriscaping:

■ Proper planning and design

■ Soil and site analysis

■ Appropriate plant selection (native species)

■ Practical turf areas

■ Efficient irrigation (often using drip irrigation)

■ Use of mulches

■ Appropriate maintenance

So why xeriscape? Irrigation accounts for a large percentage of peak-day demand on our local water supply system. Water conservation from efficient landscapes can reduce this demand significantly, thereby defraying the need and cost of future infrastructure expansion. If you are on a well, water conservation also is a priority, especially in our region. 

Introducing fewer chemicals from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers helps to safeguard water quality and the ecosystem. Protecting indigenous wildlife habitats and increasing biodiversity also are beneficial side effects of sustainable landscaping.

Generally, xeriscape and sustainable landscapes require less maintenance.

Where do you start?

Site assessment

A few important planning considerations will help with the success of your xeriscape garden or sustainable landscape endeavor. First, assessment of the site is critical, including soil analysis, orientation to the sun, grade and slope and your overall vision. Most mountain soils benefit from organic amendments. Incorporating compost material will add to the sustainability aspect of the garden by completing the cycle of use and reuse. Identifying which drought-tolerant plants fit with your landscape design improves the potential for success and longevity.

Design

Time spent on a good water-wise design will pay off for years to come. Native plants generally use less water and need less fertilizer and pruning; they are naturally adapted to the area climate, soils and other conditions; and they provide good habitat for wildlife and help maintain biodiversity. Factoring in plant height, texture and color scheme will all improve overall appearance. There are many native plants that can be incorporated to provide the desired appearance you may be seeking (check out the water-wise garden at Yampa River Botanic Park). Learn about the principles of permaculture to take these concepts to an even higher level.

A list of drought-tolerant plant species for Routt County can be found at www.mwwater.com, where you also can learn how to apply for xeriscape rebates.

Remember, before digging, always have underground utilities located. Also, it is a good idea to consult a professional when designing and installing landscape and irrigation systems.

Lyn Halliday is an environmental scientist and owner of Environmental Solutions Unltd. She consults locally on environmental issues and founded the Sustainable Business Program in 2006.

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