Xeriscaping: Just Enough Lawn

What would happen if you turned on the tap and no water came out? We are accustomed to having water on demand, but here in the west, the truth is that we are slowly running out. As communities grow, increased demand on both surface water and aquifers will eventually lead to rationing and other restrictions. In some places, that has already happened.

Since landscapes consume far more water than household use, your yard is the best place to conserve.

Lawns are the thirstiest part of most landscapes, so let’s start there. Frequently, homeowners plant turf because they don’t know what else to do, or because they’ve always done it that way. A wall-to-wall carpet of grass might work in Virginia, but is it appropriate in Colorado?

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A Garden for the Birds

The following article was first published by the Colorado Springs Gazette on March 21, 2009:

broadtail-hummingbird-keystone-20may07-lah-837rA brightly colored hummingbird zooms past on its way to a feeder. A finch fills the air with music. Birds provide us with hours of entertainment. How can you welcome more wild birds into your yard?

Like other animals, birds have a basic need for five essential elements: water, food, shelter, safety from predators, and a place to raise their young. While it’s fun to provide bird houses and feeders full of seed, you can design your landscape to offer these necessities and truly give yourself a yard for the birds.

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Growing Minor Bulbs

In my previous posting, I described a number of so-called “minor bulbs” that can have a major impact in the late winter garden. This time, I’ll focus on how to grow them.


You have to plan ahead to enjoy these little beauties. They all need to be planted in the fall, early enough so that they put out some root growth before the ground freezes. Most aren’t easy to find at local stores, and must be ordered from a catalog or online. I prefer to make my decisions on next year’s order while this year’s plants are in bloom.

Unlike the giant hybrids, these bulbs should increase year after year. Since they will be left undisturbed during that time, preparing the soil before planting is especially critical.

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Minor Bulbs, Major Impact

Iris hyb_HAS-ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_6429.nefNothing lifts our spirits like the first crocuses of spring. They are popping up all over town, like bright Easter eggs in our dreary gardens. After months of plants that are brown and lifeless, spring blooming bulbs are an almost magical treat.

Everyone is familiar with tulips and daffodils, and crocuses and hyacinths are recognizable as well, but the assortment of bulbs available to high altitude gardens extends past these familiar flowers. The following flowers are classified as “minor bulbs,” perhaps due to their diminutive size, but they can have a major impact when planted in large enough numbers.

Snowdrops Continue reading “Minor Bulbs, Major Impact”

Xeriscaping: Watering Zones

In our part of the world, water use is a huge issue. Western gardeners need to take their garden planning one step further, and think of plant materials in terms of their water needs.

Many of our traditional garden trees, shrubs, and flowers come from areas of high rainfall, such as the eastern United States and Europe. They need more water than they will receive naturally in this area. In order to keep them healthy, we have to irrigate on a regular basis. This puts a strain on our limited water resources.

Little water, bright color
Little water, bright color

Instead of buying the same old plants, why not take advantage of our distinctive western climate and grow plants suited for Colorado?

Xeriscaping just means making efficient use of the limited irrigation water we have available. This is done by planting in watering zones. The concept is simple: different plants need different amounts of water to survive and thrive. Just as most familiar plants need constantly damp soil, many of our most beautiful and interesting Colorado species will rot if their roots are always wet. Continue reading “Xeriscaping: Watering Zones”

Surviving the Winter: Basic Garden Design 3

Too many times I find myself wandering around my yard, holding a new plant in its pot, wondering where I can squeeze it into my landscape. While those impulse buys are a lot of fun, that’s probably not the best way to go about adding plants to a garden. It’s best to consider the size, shape, and color of a plant first, before trying to determine what exact species is best.

Consider how nature positions plants. In any forested area, trees form the highest canopy. They reach up to capture the full brunt of the sun pouring down on them, and provide shade in varying degrees to the plants underneath.

In the shelter of the tallest trees grow understory plants. Usually large shrubs or small, multi-stemmed trees, these plants form a middle layer of the forest. Continue reading “Surviving the Winter: Basic Garden Design 3”

Surviving Winter: Basic Garden Design 2

When contemplating a garden design, I ask myself: What do I really want in my yard? What features are permanent, and what am I willing to change? How do I want to use my outdoor space? What feelings do I want to experience when I step out my door?

water-garden-dbg-lah-2711While we all want to gain maximum use from our yards, it’s very helpful to prioritize. Perhaps you entertain a lot, and your garden wish list includes a deck or patio, a fire pit, and a lawn for playing games. Or perhaps you are the introspective sort, and you want a garden bench under an arbor, a reflecting pool, and paths wandering through your plantings. My priorities include food and water for the birds, a secluded place from which to watch them, and a vegetable garden. Limiting yourself to three main features brings a sense of unity to your landscape. Continue reading “Surviving Winter: Basic Garden Design 2”