Water Saving Tips

Learn about Xeriscaping, the term for landscaping without supplemental watering- and get tips you can use in your garden.


Xeriscaping, the term for landscaping without supplemental watering, was coined in Denver where water usage is one of several extreme gardening challenges in this mile high Zone 5 city. Altitude and wild weather, says Judy Elliott, Education and Community Empowerment Coordinator with D.U.G., also contribute. Both Elliott and Clari Davis, a landscape designer specializing in small city gardens, prefer the term "dry land" gardening. Dry land gardens must be watered correctly for two years, once established they need very little water. Elliott and Davis join Ann Montague, a horticulturist with DBG, to offer growing tips honed from years of experience.

  • Practice hydro-zone gardening. Group plants with like water needs together so as not to over water or underwater. For example never mix cactus & ferns.
  • Use organic mulch such as chopped up wood chips, rather than stone mulch, to keep down weeds.
  • Do not mulch a shade garden. Touch test the soil for texture, only watering when needed.
  • Never water at night, as slugs are a huge problem. A local nursery, Timberline Gardens, recommends Sluggo and Power Gard, products safe for animals. Broadcast before the plants come up to avoid slug devastation.
  • Quickly mist (don't water) for 5 minutes in the evening. This uses the least amount of water and gets moisture on the leaves, without encouraging slugs.
  • Try the footprint test on the lawn. If your foot is pressed on the lawn and the grass bounces up, it doesn't need water. Blue grass rye and fescue do well.
  • The very long season requires strong structure in the garden. Use shrubbery everygreens, and plant material that will look good in winter when it defoliates. Plant river birch, woody ground covers, emerald gaiety euyeumous, Euyonomous coloradus, and Euyonomus sarcoxi.
  • Arbors, trellises, and large pots (planted with evergreens, mugos, boxwood, and arbor vitae) add structure to your garden. Concrete pots with a substance that keeps them from cracking do best through Denver winters. Glazed pots from China don't crack.
  • High altitude makes hardening off essential to prevent plant wilt.
  • Plant by soil temperature rather than air temperature. Don't plant seedlings or seeds below 45-degree soil temperature. Hail and very strong winds cause desiccation of plant tissues. Extreme temperature swings that vary as much as 50 degrees in one day make it difficult to know what to plant. In the morning use a soil thermometer measured down to 4" to plan planting.
  • Consider wind buffers such as hoop houses. They work well against wind and hail. Plant windbreaks of tall grains (wheat or barley) in double rows next to crops. Tall grass prairie plants shelter flowering plants and are like living mulch.
  • Compost heavily as heavy clay soils means there is very little air space. Plant buckwheat cover crops that grow fast and add green material.