Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
The concept of Xeric gardening was created by Denver Water in 1981 in order to promote low water use landscaping. The word Xeriscape was formed by combining the word "landscape" with the Greek word for dry, "xeros". Xeriscape gardening is a method of combining low water plants with appropriate hardscapes, and small turf areas, that sustainably reduces urban water consumption. The Xeriscape Demonstration Garden at the Margret Carpenter Recreation Center was installed in 1997 and is intended to give residents an opportunity to observe plants that are successful in a low water environment.
Xeriscape is a combination of seven core principles that when effectively implemented will result in landscape water conservation. A common misconception of Xeric gardening is that you will have a yard consisting primarily of rocks and cactus devoid of color and interest. When the proper techniques are applied a beautiful arrangement of year round color will be achieved.
Planning and Design
Determine the square footage of the areas to be planted. Sketch the house and surrounding areas including any existing pathways, structures, trees, and plants. Divide the yard into hydro zones according to water usage in each area: moderate, low, and very low. Draw in xeric plants arranged by height, texture, and water requirements. Be sure to consider areas of sun and shade for plant selection, moderate plants will do better in partial shade with less water.
Determine your soil composition: clay, loamy, or sandy. Although some plants can tolerate dense clay soils, most xeric species prefer loose well draining soils. Tilling in compost breaks up the soil and the organic matter retains moisture while increasing oxygen transfer. Four cubic yards per 1000 square feet, 8-12 inches deep is recommended. If the soil is extremely dense, sand or small gravel worked into the soil will help to increase drainage.
Appropriate Plant Selection
The key to appropriate plant selection is to choose groupings of plants with similar light, soil, and water requirements. Although some plants are adaptable, many Xeric plants will fail if they are receiving too much water. Consider native species that are adapted to Colorado's climate and soils. Trees are important as they block wind and reduce evaporation by shading the soil. Golden Rain, and Kentucky Coffe trees are excellent low water choices. Sages, grasses, Penstemons, and Agastache are trusted Xeric species. Delosperma and Sedum make excellent ground covers. (For more plant ideas see Plants Xeric Garden at the bottom of the page).
Include turf areas that provide a defined function such as a play area for children or dogs. Minimize the area to only what you need. There are many types of grass to choose from depending on the amount of traffic they will be subjected to. Buffalo grass requires little water and is great for areas of low traffic. Never water turf daily unless you are trying to establish it. Daily watering will encourage shallow root growth and reduce the turf's drought tolerance.
Water efficiently with a properly designed irrigation system. Well planned sprinkler systems can save water when properly installed and operated. Drip irrigation works well for perennials, shrubs, and trees if appropriately monitored. To promote deep rooting, water infrequently but deeply. Irrigate according to the moisture in the soil, not on a fixed schedule. If you have a programmable system do not just program it at the beginning of the season and forget it. Reprogram every month according to precipitation levels. Turf areas should be watered separately from beds as they require different amounts of moisture. For all new transplants, including xeric, regular watering during the first year is essential to grow a strong root system.
Mulch provides a cover for the soil, keeping it moist by preventing evaporation. It also acts as a weed deterrent and controls erosion. There are two appropriate types of mulch for Xeric gardening: organic and gravel. Stone or gravel mulch is relatively permanent, wood chips decompose over time and may need to be occasionally refreshed. Do not use excessive amounts of mulch as it will smother the plants and prevent the soil from receiving oxygen. Use sparingly around ground covers so they can spread.
Control weeds, they will steal water from your plants! Too much water promotes weak growth and increases pruning and mowing requirements. Check soil moisture before watering. Insert a 6 inch screwdriver into the soil, if it can be easily inserted you do not need to water. Check sprinkler heads frequently to make sure that they are functioning properly. Set your mower to the highest level and make sure the blade is sharp. Leave your lawn clippings on the turf and use a mulching mower to recycle moisture and nutrients back into the yard.
The Xeriscape Demonstration Garden features a variety of grasses that enhance the landscape with year round interest. Native grasses are a great addition to xeric gardens as they are adapted to our dry climate and require very little water once established.
The Xeriscape Demonstration Garden features a unique collection of perennials that range from very low to moderate water use. We hope that a visit to the garden will inspire you to try these interesting plants at home.
Basket of Gold, Mountain
Black Eyed Susan, Denver Daisy
| Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy'
Blanket Flower, Dwarf
|Gaillardia 'Arizona Sun'
Blanket Flower, Oranges and Lemons
|Gaillardia aristata 'Oranges and Lemons'
|Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'
|Bugloss, Red Feathers
| Aquilegia chrysantha
|Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan'
|Coral Bells, Silver Scrolls
|Heuchera 'Silver Scrolls'
Coral Bells, Variegated
|Heuchera sanguinea 'Snow Angel'
|Artemisia Versicolor 'Sea Foam'
Daylily, Dwarf Gold
|Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro'
| Linum flavum 'Compacticum'
Gayfeather, Blazing Star
Hens & Chicks
|Sempervivum tectorum 'Red Flush'
|Honeysuckle, Kintzley's Ghost®
|Lonicera reticulata Kitzley's Ghost®
|Agastache aurantiaca Coronado®
|Ice Plant, Fire Spinner
|Delosperma Fire Spinner
Ice Plant, Mesa Verde®
Ice Plant, Yellow Hardy
| Delosperma nubigenum
Lamb's Ears, Silver Carpet
|Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet'
Munro's Globe Mallow, Orange
|Tanacetum densum amani
Penstemon, Prairie Jewel®
|Penstemon grandiflorus Prairie Jewel®
Penstemon, Yellow Pineleaf
| Penstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow'
Sage, Silver Mound
|Salvia, Hot Pink
|Salvia greggii Wild Thing
Salvia, May Night Purple
|Salvia, May Night Purple
|Sea Holly, Blue Cap
|Eryngium planum 'Blaukappe'
Shasta Daisy 'Alaska'
|Leucanthemum x superbum 'Alaska'
| Scutellaria suffrutescens
|Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'
Stonecrop, Autumn Joy
|Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
|Stonecrop, Dragon's Blood
|Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'
Stonecrop, Old Man Bones
|Sun Daisy, Lavender Mist®
|Osteospermum Lavender Mist®
Sun Daisy, Purple Mountain®
|Osteospermum barberiae compactum
|Thyme, Lavender Creeping
|Thymus praecox skorpilii
Twinspur, Coral Canyon®
|Diascia integerrima Coral Canyon®
The Xeriscape garden has a large collection of shrubs that are very tolerant of harsh conditions. Many of the shrubs on display can survive with little to no water for months.
A visit to the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden will provide you with ideas for interesting low water trees to consider for your property. Click on the links below to learn more about each tree and how to properly care for it.
The Xeriscape Demonstration Garden has three separate turf areas that provide an example of grasses that require less water than the Kentucky Blue Grass found in most lawns. Visit the garden to see these alternatives. Click on the links below to learn more.