offers colorful, unique options for becoming a water miser
Sidebar: Top picks (or going
beyond columbine and lupines)
| Durango resident Debra
VanWinegarden hand-waters part of her newly xeriscaped
yard Tuesday. Since ripping out her lawn in favor
of native and xeric plants, she estimates she uses
about one-tenth of the water she used to use to maintain
her yard./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
About a year ago, Debra VanWinegarden decided to end
it all – the miles of hoses, the endless watering,
the backbreaking mowing. She xeriscaped her downtown Durango
“I had a lawn, and it was in bad shape,”
she said. “And I felt really bad using all that
water – it should be going downstream.”
So VanWinegarden decided to do something about it. A
hobby gardener who has undertaken about half a dozen landscaping
projects over the years, she drew up a plan for the 1,000-square-foot
space that involved native and xeric plants, and set about
removing her Kentucky bluegrass lawn.
“I brought in all these native plants,” she
said. “I shopped around at all the nurseries in
town to find the best prices, and then I just brought
them in and started filling the holes.”
VanWinegarden said she is delighted with the results.
In addition to using about one-tenth of the water she
used to maintain her lawn, she said her new yard is much
more visually interesting.
“I’m doing very little watering, and it looks
adorable,” she said. “The lawn was ugly and
this xeriscaping is beautiful.”
|For more information
on xeric plants and retrofitting yards to be more
waterwise, contact Greg Vlaming, of the La Plata County
Extension Office, 247-4355.
Local nurseries and landscapers say VanWinegarden is
among a growing group of local residents planting or retrofitting
their yards to be more waterwise – particularly
in light of last summer’s fires. And they are finding
that the possibilities today have come a long way from
the stereotypical lava-rock-and-cactus yardscapes of yesteryear.
“It took a year of drought and water shortages
to get people to start thinking about it,” said
Lisa Bouray, manager of Durango Nursery and Supply. “This
year we’ve had a flush of phone calls from people
calling for natives and xeric plants.”
Allison Scarpella, owner of Down to Earth Landscaping,
also has noticed a sway in clients’ mindsets.
“I have gotten a few clients so far this year who
are really dedicated to planting xeric and being waterwise,”
Scarpella said whenever possible, she tries to use xeric
and native species in her plantings.
“I try to emphasize xeric as much as possible,”
she said. “And if they give me the go-ahead, I use
The turf dilemma
Although many people believe the use of turf is taboo
in the xeriscaped yard, Scarpella said it is not completely
out of the question, particularly for people who have
underground sprinkler systems.
“Most people want a little lawn, which is OK, especially
if people have irrigation, it’s so much more efficient,”
| Lisa Bouray, of Durango Nursery
arranges pots of sedum, a xeric succulent, at
the nursery Monday./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
Greg Vlaming, a horticulturist with the Colorado State
Extension Office in La Plata County, agreed.
“Xeriscaping doesn’t mean no turf, it just
means efficient use of that turf,” he said.
Scarpella even said the water-hungry but ever-popular
Kentucky bluegrass, often considered a taboo in the Southwest,
has some benefits over native grasses, which can die without
“When we go into drought, Kentucky bluegrass goes
dormant, but it comes back,” she said.
Scarpella also said there are options for people who
want a softer look than that afforded by rock gardens,
which conserve water but may not be so easy on the eye.
“The other thing I encourage people to do if they’re
not into rock is mulch,” she said. “It’s
good for the soil, retains water and keeps weeds down.”
Bouray, who also runs her own seed company, Edge of the
Rockies, on the side, said great strides have been made
in cultivating drought-tolerant plant species and that
she is always on the lookout for something new and different.
“I’m always searching for new and interesting
plants, not just your typical columbine and lupine,”
she said. “Our idea is to carry hardy plants that
will grow well in this region.”
And sometimes this includes plants from locales as far
flung as Africa.
“The Denver Botanical Gardens are doing a lot with
imported plants,” she said. “They have gone
to an area in South Africa that is similar to our climate
and done plant collection and are coming out with new
plants that grow well here.”
One such plant is the gazania, a mounding, yellow flowering
plant that thrives in the arid Southwest. Closer to home,
Bouray said research and cultivation in Nebraska have
yielded prairie plants, such as white salvia, or sage,
that also do well here.
Location, location, location
While finding plants that do well in our area is half
the battle, Bouray said where they are placed in the yard
is equally important.
“There is so much you can do by planting plants
in the right area. It’s all about matching the right
plant for the right place,” she said. “Do
this, and the plants will take care of themselves.”
To accomplish this, plants should be “hydrozoned,”
or placed according to water needs. Vlaming said. For
example, low-water plants should be placed in areas that
are hardest to reach with water while higher-water plants
should go in low-lying areas where drainage will help
with their maintenance.
In order to help with the plant-selection process, Bouray
has implemented the “Triple X” plant rating
system. Developed by Green Co., a group of landscapers
and plant producers in Denver, Bouray said she has modified
the list for our climate.
“Instead of using the Denver list, I compiled my
own list,” she said. The list groups plants, shrubs
and trees according to water needs, with X-rated needing
moderate water, XX-rated needing low water and XXX-rated
needing the very least water.
Bouray also said that when and how the watering is done
plays a big role in success or failure. Drip, micro-spray
or bubbler emitters should be used for trees, shrubs and
perennials. Hand watering also is acceptable, but oscillating
sprinklers or those that produce a fine mist should be
avoided because too much of the water evaporates before
reaching the plants. To further reduce evaporation, watering
should be done between 6 and 9 a.m., when the air is cool.
Furthermore, Bouray and Scarpella said that although
spring is the traditional time for planting, those who
can wait to plant until the fall, when plants are dormant,
will be better off.
“Dormant planting is really good for plants because
they have less of a struggle to establish themselves,”
VanWinegarden, who xeriscaped her lawn last year, agreed.
“Last spring, I got rid of the lawn and did all
the hardscaping,” she said. “I didn’t
do a thing with plants until the fall. I went out when
we had a week of rain and planted then.”
And while going xeric may seem overwhelming at first,
Bouray said if done right, ultimately it will pay off.
According to Vlaming, of the Extension Office, xeriscaped
yards reward their owners with low maintenance and low
water bills once established – usually after a couple
However, Bouray noted that not all gardeners may want
to – or have to – stop at this point.
“It should be a one-time investment,” she
said, “unless you have an addiction problem.”