white flower on a tree

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​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.

Xeric Concepts

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.

  1. 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.

  2. Soil Improvement
    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.

  3. 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). 

  4. Practical Turf
    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. 

  5. Efficient Irrigation
    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. 

  6. Mulching
    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. 

  7. Appropriate Maintenance
    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.

​Common Name​ Botanic Name
​Big BluestemAndropogon gerardii
Blue FescueFestuca glauca
​Blue Oat GrassHeliototrichon sempervirens
​Dwarf Maiden GrassMiscanthus sinensis
Karl Foerseter Reed GrassAlamagrostis x acutilflora
​Little BluestemSchizachyrium scoparium
​​Variegated Maiden GrassMiscanthus sinensis variegatus


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.​

​Common Name​ Botanic Name
Basket of Gold, MountainAurina saxatilis
Black Eyed Susan, Denver DaisyRudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy'
Blanket Flower, DwarfGaillardia 'Arizona Sun'
​Blanket Flower, Oranges and LemonsGaillardia aristata 'Oranges and Lemons'
Blue, FlaxLinum perenne
​BugleweedAjuga 'Chocolate Chip'
​​Bugloss, Red FeathersEchium amoenum
Chocolate FlowerBerlandiera lyrata
Columbine, YellowAquilegia chrysantha
Coneflower, PurpleEchinacea purpurea
​Coneflower, WhiteEchinacea purpurea 'White Swan'
Coral Bells, Silver ScrollsHeuchera 'Silver Scrolls'
​Coral Bells, VariegatedHeuchera sanguinea 'Snow Angel'
​​Curlique SageArtemisia Versicolor 'Sea Foam'
Daylily, Dwarf GoldHemerocallis 'Stella de Oro'
Flax, YellowLinum flavum 'Compacticum'
Gayfeather, Blazing StarLiatris spicata
​Hens & ChicksSempervivum tectorum 'Red Flush'
Honeysuckle, Kintzley's Ghost®Lonicera reticulata Kitzley's Ghost®
​Hyssop, Coronado®Agastache aurantiaca Coronado®
​​Ice Plant, Fire SpinnerDelosperma Fire Spinner
Ice Plant, Mesa Verde®Delosperma 'Kelaidis'
Ice Plant, Yellow HardyDelosperma nubigenum
Lamb's Ears, Silver CarpetStachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet'
​Munro's Globe Mallow, OrangeSphaeralcea munroana
Oregano, HopflowerOriganum libanoticum
Partridge FeatherTanacetum densum amani
​​Penstemon, PineleafPenstemon pinifolius
Penstemon, Prairie Jewel®Penstemon grandiflorus Prairie Jewel®
Penstemon, Yellow PineleafPenstemon pinifolius 'Mersea Yellow'
Prairie WinecupsCallirhoe involucrata
Sage, Silver MoundArtemisia schmidtiana
Salvia, Hot PinkSalvia greggii Wild Thing
​Salvia, May Night PurpleSalvia, May Night Purple
​​Sea Holly, Blue CapEryngium planum 'Blaukappe'
Shasta Daisy 'Alaska'Leucanthemum x superbum 'Alaska'
Skullcap, CherryScutellaria suffrutescens
Stonecrop, AngelinaSedum rupestre 'Angelina'
​Stonecrop, Autumn JoySedum 'Autumn Joy'
Stonecrop, Dragon's BloodSedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'
​Stonecrop, Old Man BonesSedum divergins
​​Sun Daisy, Lavender Mist®Osteospermum Lavender Mist®
Sun Daisy, Purple Mountain®Osteospermum barberiae compactum
Thyme, Lavender CreepingThymus praecox skorpilii
​Twinspur, Coral Canyon®Diascia integerrima Coral Canyon®
​​Yarrow, MoonshineAchillea 'Moonshine'


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.

​Common Name​ Botanic Name
Allegany ViburnumViburnum x rhytidophylloides
Apache PlumeFallugia paradoxa
Bananna YuccaYucca baccata
​Blue Mist SpireaCaryopteris clandonensis
Cheyenne MockorangePhiladelphus lewisii 'Cheyenne'
​Compact American CranberryViburnum trilobum compactum
​​Compact Oregon Grape HollyMahonia aquifolium 'Compacta'
Curl-leaf Mountain MahoganyCerococarpus ledifolus
Dwarf Korean LilacSyriga meyeri 'Palibin'
Frobel SpireaSpirea x bumalda 'Frobelii'
​Globe SprucePicea pungens 'Globosa'
Golden CurrantRibes aureum
​Hedge CotoneasterCotoneaster lucidus
​​Helene Rose of SharonHibiscus syriacus 'Helene'
Holbert JuniperJuniperus chinensis 'Holbert'
Mugo PinePinus mugo
Pink Mediland RoseRosa x Pink Mediland
​Red False YuccaHesperaloe parviflora
Royal Gold WoadwaxenGentista tinctoria 'Royal Gold'
Scarlet Meidiland RoseRosa x Scarlet Meidiland
​​Sea Green JuniperJuniperus chinensis 'Sea Green'
Siberian PeashrubCaragana arborescens
Snowmound SpireaSpirea nipponica 'Snowmound'
Squaw CurrantRibes cereum
​Syriga vulgarisCommon Purple Lilac
Three Leaf SumacRhus trilobata
Tiny Trumpets HoneysuckleLonicera syringantha 'Wolfii'i
​​Wayfaring TreeViburnum lantana
Whitestem GooseberryRibes inerme
Yellow twig DogwoodCornus sericea 'Flaviramea'


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.

​​Common Name​ Botanic Name
​Canada Red CherryPrunus virginiana
Concolor FirAbies concolor
Golden Rain TreeKoelreuteria paniculata
​Kentucky Coffe TreeGymnocladus dioicus
Louisa CrabappleMalus louisa
Maple, Hot Wings®Acer tataricum Hot Wings®
​​Oak, BurQuercus macrocarpa
​Oak, EnglishQuercus robur
Oak, Wavy LeafQuercus undulata
Pine, AustrianPinus nigra
​Pine, PinonPinus edulis
Pine, ScotsPinus sylvestris
RedbudCercis canadensis
​​Russian HawthornCratagus ambigua
Sumac, StaghornRhus typhina
Thornless Cockspur HawthornCratagus crusgalli v. inermis
​​Walker's Weeping PeashrubCaragana arborescens 'Walker'


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.​
​​​​Common Name​ Botanic Name
​Canad​a Blue Fescue​​Blend
Nature's Prairi​​e Turf Blend Blend
​Tall Fescue​Festuca arundinacea​​
Plants of the Xeric Garden