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Publish Date: 4/14/2005

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Western sage, a popular xeriscape plant, is for sale at the Flower Bin, 1805 Nelson Road, Longmont.Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

Xeriscaping saves water, brings beautiful landscape
Popular technique enjoys revival in wake of drought


LONGMONT — Maggie Curran is gearing up for gardening season at The Flower Bin on Nelson Road.

Curran has worked in the nursery section of Flower Bin for the past four years and has more than 25 years of gardening experience.

Every year, she said, the garden rush starts in early April.

“By the end of April, this place gets so busy you can’t even count the numbers of people who come through here,” she said.

But Curran is concerned about one issue when it comes to these eager gardeners.

She worries that not enough amateur and professional gardeners are considering xeriscaping, a landscape technique that uses slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants to conserve water.

“I think that people consider xeriscaping to be more like zeroscaping,” Curran said. “People assume that the technique does not give them full gardens, when that is very far from the truth.”

Curran has used the technique in her garden and said xeriscaping offers hundreds of possibilities.

Xeriscaping, according to Xeriscape Colorado! Inc., is derived from the Greek word “xeros,” meaning dry, and “scape,” meaning view.

But the reality of a properly xeriscaped garden is that the view will look anything but dry.

Trees, shrubs, flowers and plants that require less water can be brought to Colorado from just about anywhere, Curran said, so the possibilities for xeriscaping are almost endless.

Curran used as an example the Ohio buckeye tree, which requires little water, grows slowly and features beautiful flowers. With proper care, the tree can adjust to the Rocky Mountain climate.

According to Denver Water, which supplies water to Denver and the metro area, the idea for this gardening renaissance was first developed in Denver in 1978 during a serious drought.

Denver Water, which coined the term “xeriscape” in 1981, says that close to 50 percent of residential water is used for landscaping. So the organization decided to look into alternate landscape possibilities.

The water supplier came up with three xeriscape zones: arid, transitional and oasis.

The arid zone is the area farthest from one’s house and should have the most drought-tolerant plants.

This zone features native foliage and other varieties that rarely require supplemental watering.

The lush, oasis zone should be nearer to the house to take advantage of rainwater runoff. It includes plants that require more water.

The transition zone combines plants from the other two zones. This zone takes advantage of low and moderate water use and requires watering only once a week or less.

Some landscapers decorate xeriscape gardens with paths lined with solar lanterns, shade from pergolas and small lawn areas using drought-tolerant grasses such as buffalograss and blue grama.

Janice Lockwood of Longmont is looking to integrate xeriscaping into her garden this year.

“We have been in a drought for five years,” she said.

“Of course it makes sense to garden with water conservation in mind.”

According to Denver Water, there are seven basic principles for water conservation: planning, soil analysis, practical turf area, appropriate plant selection, efficient irrigation, mulching and maintenance.

The organization urges Colorado gardeners to test their soil for organic matter and nutrient content; use drought-tolerant turf; plant drought-conscious plants like Rocky Mountain sumac, pussytoes and yellow coneflower; and irrigate, mulch and maintain their gardens.

“If gardeners xeriscape,” Curran said, “then they can have beautiful gardens while helping the Colorado drought.”

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