The principles of gardening with less water


5. Irrigate efficiently. If you water by hand, test your soil before you water. Water established plants only if the soil is dry several inches below the surface. Better yet, construct a water-efficient irrigation system. Plan it to allow different watering schedules for areas of high, moderate, and low water use. Lawns require sprinklers, but water other plants with soaker hoses or drip irrigation.

6. Use plants that don’t demand as much water. There is no one best list of plants for a xeriscape. Plant lists for Denver, for instance, include native Colorado maples (Acer spp.), but California is so dry that no maples are recommended. Another plant, Catalina lilac (Ceanothus arboreus), is an excellent choice for California gardens but would be killed by Denver’s higher summer rainfall and colder winters. Xeriscapers often turn to plants native to a particular region or to regions with similar climates and soils. Many familiar landscape plants are also adaptable. Water even drought-tolerant plants until well established.

7. Maintain the garden in ways that save water. Tend your garden well, fertilizing and pruning when needed, and checking for pests. Inspect your irrigation system frequently for leaks or other malfunctions. Adjust the timing so that the system releases more or less water as needed during drier and wetter seasons of the year.

Planning a Xeriscape

Learn more about xeriscaping by visiting a demonstration garden in your area. Denver built the first of such gardens. To find out the location of the one nearest you, call your local water department or botanical garden.

When you’re ready to select plants, learn as much as you can about the ones you’re considering. Watching a plant grow for a year is the best way to judge, but you can also get recommendations from nurseries. Plant lists in books and water department publications can help you decide if a plant is suited to your region. Books and other publications will provide details such as height, bloom season, and any potential problems. Another easy way to choose is to observe your neighborhood and note plants that thrive without irrigation.