When done properly, landscaping can provide a variety of benefits: Homeowners can increase their property value by 10-15 percent. Trees improve air quality by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and they offer shade. Turf and organic mulches prevents transpiration of water from the soil. In addition, a well-thought-out yard can attract wildlife and provide an outdoor living space for you, your family and guests.
It is through xeriscaping and xerogardening that you can limit or eliminate supplemental water use and maintain a gorgeous property. The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's article "Home Landscape Watering During Drought" lists the xeriscape principles.
Proper plant selection is key and there is a handful of native, high altitude, drought-tolerant plants. Penstomen, columbine, yarrow and lupine are a few examples. Mature perennials do well, since their established root systems often penetrate deeper into the earth where the soil is cooler and collects more moisture. To increase efficiency in water use, you should group together the plants with similar water and light requirements.
There are also shrubs and ground covers that require less water and inhibit weeds, and they maintain soil temperature by providing shade. Among my favorites are snow-in-summer, cinqufoil and juniper. For even more information on xeriscaping in Colorado, visit http://bit.ly/M9vI5M.
By adding organic matter to your soil, you will improve texture, nutrient content and moisture. DenverWater.org advises applying one to two inches of compost or manure about six inches deep to amend the soil. Mulching with woodchips, bark, dried leaves or evergreen needles helps to maintain soil temperatures, inhibit weed growth and retain moisture. It is suggested to apply four inches of organic mulch and two inches when using inorganic materials (i.e. rocks or gravel).
The key concept to watering is efficiency. Always check the soil moisture prior to watering. A simple trick is just poking your finger into the soil. Ideally it should feel cool and damp, not soggy or dry/compacted. On cloudy, cool days you can decrease the amount of water. You can even skip watering on days following half an inch or more of rain. Watering should be done between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.
Sprinklers need to be set properly, not spraying in the afternoon and going all over the driveway, sidewalk, etc. Continually check the moisture level and adjust the amount of watering time based on the needs of your lawn or garden bed. A half-inch to one inch of water should be applied slowly enough to avoid runoff and puddling. You will waste less water with drip irrigation systems since they apply the water directly to your soil and to the roots. Another trick to using less water is allowing the grass to grow a little longer.
It is really important to follow your community's watering programs/mandates, too.
For information on sustainable gardening and how to organize a community effort, visit www.FoodNotLawns.com or read a copy of H.C. Flores' "Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community."
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.