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Monday, June 5, 2023

Steps for planning a low-water landscape

By John Stolzle and
Robyn Young

PREVIEW Columnists

We have seen some very diverse weather patterns so far this year — everything from very cool spring temperatures changing to hot temperatures in just a matter of days, nice rain showers to gully washers and heavy amounts of damaging hail. And just in the last couple of days with the cooling night temperatures, I have seen some yellowing willows and cottonwoods and fewer hummingbirds at the feeders. 

The following steps will help you to start creatively designing and carefully planning landscapes which incorporate hardy xeric or native plants that can flourish under hot and droughty conditions. Even with the summer rains, Archuleta continues to be in drought. 

Step 1: Planning and plant selection. The first step is to assess your landscape and begin selecting plants and to develop a general layout and plan. You’ll want to consider the amount of sun that your landscape receives; southern and western exposures particularly near buildings or pavement (with reflected heat) will often have the greatest losses of water — to address this, consider using plants that are especially tolerant of dry conditions. 

In exposed locations that are particularly steep or difficult to irrigate such as terraced areas, you might consider planting a xeric groundcover which can also help to prevent erosion. 

Once you have selected plants for your landscape, it can be helpful to group them by water requirements. A great list of xeric groundcover plants to help get you started can be found at: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07230.pdf.

Step 2: Soil prep and irrigation planning. Once you have a plan in place for your landscape and plants picked out, you can help ensure the successful establishment of your plants by properly amending your soil when needed. If your soil is too sandy, nutrients and water can be lost to leaching below the root zone of your plants; if the soil is thick clay, a landscape can lose water to runoff. To cultivate a soil that is just right, you can add organic matter annually to garden areas to help improve moisture retention. Additional information regarding soil amendments can be found at: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/07235.pdf.

Native and xeric plants can withstand very trying conditions; however, they are vulnerable and more sensitive when first becoming established. This process can take up to three years after planting, and so it is important that newly planted xeric and native plants are provided supplemental water during their initial years in a landscape. If you have an irrigation system already installed, you may wish to conduct an irrigation system self audit; if you do not have a system installed, you may be interested in setting up a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation can be much more efficient than standard above-ground sprinkler systems.

For more information on an irrigation system self audit, visit: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/lawn-irrigation-self-audit-lisa/.

For more information on drip irrigation, visit: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/garden/04702.pdf.

 Step 3: Just add mulch. Mulch can greatly help to conserve soil moisture, it can reduce soil temperatures, the amount of soil exposed to wind and help manage weeds. Wood chips and pea gravel can make a great choice for trees, shrubs or perennials; but stone mulch should be limited to less than half an inch in diameter for weed management and water conservation. Black rolled plastic, or woven “weed fabric” can interfere with the flow of oxygen and water between the soil and air and this can sometimes harm plants. These types of mulch are not recommended for many landscape situations; however, they can be effective in vegetable gardens when used very carefully. 

John Stolzle is an Extension agent in Jefferson County.

Plant Select

Plant Select is a program run in partnership with Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens. For more information, visit http://plantselect.org/plants/find-a-plant/.

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Visit us on the Web at https://archuleta.extension.colostate.edu/ or like us on Facebook and get more information: https://www.facebook.com/CSUARCHCTY.

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