Xeriscape Information

SECWCD Xeriscape Demonstration Garden Xeriscaping is an environmentally friendly way to “live green”. The increasing demands on water in the arid west makes xeriscaping one of the most practical methods to conserve water. Water wise landscapes can be both beautiful and functional, reflecting the dramatic natural landscapes found in the west. Xeriscaping is not a dry, dull, one size fits all style of garden design; rather it is the technique and art of selecting, grouping and watering plants appropriate to climate and soils. A xeric garden could be as natural and flowing as a “prairie garden” or as geometrical as a formal garden. It is all about the plants you use and how you choose to use them in your design. Xeriscaping includes an understanding of your specific climate, your soils and what plants will thrive within those perimeters.

Efficient water use requires finding tactics to create and maintain attractive landscapes without excessive water use. In the western United States, more than fifty percent of residential water is used to keep lawns and landscapes green. Xeriscaping can reduce this by up to 60% or more. Xeriscaping does not eliminate lawns, but it does incorporate more native and drought tolerant species of grasses and stresses irrigating them efficiently. Xeriscaping relies on an understanding of the natural environment and a good “sense of place”. Xeriscaping in Seattle’s wet, rainy, cool northwest climate is different than creating a xeric garden in the arid southwest but they would both use the same principles.

Seven Principles of Xeriscaping

Drawing: CSU Extension Colorado Master Gardener Garden Notes #411 Before lifting a shovel or buying a plant it is best to take a little time and plan your water wise garden. This step is crucial to creating a beautiful and cohesive garden. Anyone can create a plan. Here are the basic steps to drawing a rewarding design:

  • Create a base plan by drawing a simple scaled sketch of the property. Have someone help with measuring the exterior of buildings, existing features such as walkways, driveways, fence or property lines, and trees or shrubs that you want to retain in your final design.
  • After making a “wish list” of wanted items for your yard i.e. patio area, vegetable garden, play area, dog run, pond or utility storage area, prioritize your needs and begin a bubble diagram. By using tracing paper over your base map you can re-arrange these and experiment as much as needed. This bubble diagram should include the best views, sun exposure, slopes, and screening for unsightly views, as well as area functions. Remember to hydro-zone areas. Consider the watering needs to be highest nearer the house, this is called an “oasis” zone, then a moderate transition zone a little outside this “oasis” zone, and the lowest water use (most xeric) the farthest out.
  • Finalize your design by converting the best ideas from your bubble diagram to a well- defined plan drawn to scale. Identify hardscape details such as pathways, your planting scheme and the irrigation zones on this plan.

Planning your garden can be one of the most rewarding tasks to creating a beautiful and useful garden. Relax, dream and be creative.

More details on the planning and design of water wise gardens can be found online at: 

Denver Water Xeriscape Plans  

Colorado State University Extension Xeric Gardens  

Plant Select Download Designs  

Colorado State University Sustainable Landscaping 

Colorado State University Water Wise Landscape Design 

Design Considerations 

It is very important t good drainage. The oasis area is often planted with adapted plants that will require some added organic matter such as plant based compost. Make sure you understand your existing soils by having a soil test done. Knowing your existing soils characteristics can save money in the long run, by helping you choose the correct amendments to add to your soil. Many labs are available to perform soil tests for the homeowner and prices will vary.                       

CSU Soil Testing 

IAS Laboratories

Soil Preparation for lawns       

Soil Amendments                                                                                      

If you are putting in a lawn or turf area be sure to prepare and amend soil carefully before planting. The same preparation is needed for seeding, sodding or planting “plugs”. Once your lawn is established it is almost impossible to add any quantity of organic matter, so front loading your lawn area with soil amendments area is highly recommended. Well amended soil will help your lawn be more drought tolerant by retaining moisture in the root zone.

Photo: Genevieve Schmidt Design your garden to include appropriate turf areas. Lawns can
consume as much as 60% of  If the lawn in your front yard is only for “eye candy” consider using a native grass to
reduce water use, mowing, and fertilizing. Xeriscaping does not “prohibit” lawns, but rather it advocates using a minimally useful amount of lawn in the landscape. Lawns can add beauty and value to a landscape but should always be a practical size and have a purpose.

There are several benefits of creating a smaller turf area:
  • Reduces water consumption
  • Lowers lawn maintenance
  • Less yard waste
  • Reduces herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer use
  • Reduces air and noise pollution from power equipment

Learn more:

Design your irrigation system to place trees and shrubs on separate sprinkler valves from turf areas. Plan the irrigation system carefully using hydro-zones by matching water requirements within the zones. Hydro-zoning will reduce water use. Set your irrigation to run during the coolest part of the day usually between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and do not irrigate under windy conditions.  Adjust your irrigation to reflect seasonal temperature fluctuations. Inspect the irrigation system to make sure all parts are working correctly.
More information on irrigation can be found at:

Roads Water-Smart Garden at the Denver Botanic Garden There is a vast variety of water wise plants for the arid west and they become more readily available each year. Consider using many natives plants in your garden. Native plants are best adapted for local soil, water, and climate conditions and have the added benefit of supporting native wildlife and pollinators.

Place trees to conserve energy in your home.  Consider Landscaping for Energy Conservation to better understand tree placement. Use shrubs as screening for unsightly views or to block winds, as well as for seasonal interest like spring flowers, fall foliage and winter berries. Group plants with like water needs together.

For example, the most xeric plants located in a low water area, or the moderate water plants grouped together in an oasis area. Always consider the light needs of a plant such as full sun or part shade.

There are lots of resources for learning about plants and their requirements:

New Mexico State University Xeriscape Plants

Harlequins Gardens - Opportunities and Tricks of Xeriscaping

Colorado State University Extension - Native Shrubs for Colorado Landscapes
Colorado State University Extension - Xeriscaping: Ground Cover Plants

Colorado State University Extension - Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado
Colorado State University Extension - Native Trees for Colorado Landscapes
Plant Select

CSU Plant Data Base

Barnett Garden, Pueblo Colorado

Photo: BrambleandBean.com Mulches are extremely beneficial when applied on top of the soil to help retain moisture and control weeds. Mulch should be applied to the root zone and not mounded up against tree trunks or the base of woody shrubs. Mulches moderate soil temperatures and keep them from fluctuating. Organic mulch such as bark or wood chips breaks down and adds organic matter to soils through micro-organisms and earthworms.  Organic mulches will need to be replaced periodically. Organic mulches are lighter and can blow away in windy places. Inorganic mulches such as pea gravel are longer lasting and often more conducive to the growing needs of xeric plants. Mulches can enhance the color and textures in a garden and be a part of the overall design. They should be applied to a depth of 2” and up to 4” maximum.

Information on mulches can be found at:

New Mexico State - Mulches for gardens and Landscapes

Utah State University - Using Mulches

Xeric Garden Club of Albuquerque - What Mulch to Use

Colorado State University Extension - Mulches for Home Grounds

Grass clippings used as mulch in vegetable beds. Photo: CSU ExtensionMulch the roots not the trunks of trees and woody plants. Drawing: pubs.ext.vt.edu

Maintaining your xeric garden will keep it healthy and beautiful. If designed properly water wise landscapes can be easy to maintain. Even xeric gardens require some pruning, occasional weeding, pest management, and irrigation system maintenance. Helpful hints: 

Xeriscape Maintenance


 SECWCD Xeriscape Demonstration Garden SECWCD Xeriscape Demonstration Garden