Xeriscape Basics - Aurora Water, Colorado


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Xeriscape Basics - Aurora Water, Colorado

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  3. 3. “Xeriscape” is a water conserving and drought tolerant landscape.DENVER WATER first coined the term in 1981. It combines the Greek word “xeros”,which means dry, with the word “landscape.” 3
  4. 4. The Denver Botanic Gardens opened the first xeriscape demonstration garden in1986. This garden is still in existence today and is called the “Dryland Mesa” garden.Pictured is a Delosperma cooperii (iceplant) and sedum garden bed. 4
  5. 5. As the term and idea of xeriscape spread, misconceptions proliferated. When peopleheard “xeriscape,” they thought ZEROscape. Many believed that xeriscape meant alandscape dominated by rocks and cactus. This idea may have been spread by imagesof native xeriscape in the desert southwest, e.g. barrel cactus and cholla in sandysoils in Tucson, AZ – all of which are native and correspond perfectly with southernAZ’s climate. Barrel cactus would not do as well in Aurora. 5
  6. 6. In 2002, a drought of historic proportions struck Colorado. The state struggled withrecord low snowmelt, and for Aurora in particular, which relies heavily on snowmelt,the effect was alarming. Concerns for the drinking supply were eminent. Auroraturned to xeriscape as a means of significantly reducing water use.These photos show receded shorelines of major reservoirs in the state. The photo onleft is of Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. The photo on right is of RampartRange Reservoir, the primary supplier of Colorado Springs’ water. 6
  7. 7. 2002 –The new Aurora Municipal Center’s landscape plan, designed years before the drought,included large expanses of Bluegrass turf. City officials knew that a clear message of waterstewardship was needed, so the traditional landscape plan was reexamined. Aurora Waterdetermined that a xeriscape demonstration garden at the AMC would be an example ofwater conservation for citizens and all of Colorado. And, the city would have beautifulgardens that would be able to survive a drought.We broke ground in Sept 2002 on six acres that were originally slated to be a parking lot. Thekey themes of the garden became (1) interpreting the principles of xeriscape and (2)explaining Aurora’s water supply.2003 – For the calendar year, the city enacted new planting restrictions which allowed onlyxeriscape plants and no sod. Today, xeriscape is a design mainstay on city lands.Drought Management PlanAurora Water began developing Water Management Plans in 2003 to better mitigate theeffects of drought. These Plans describe various levels of water restrictions depending onwater supply, weather conditions, and the amount of water that is available to meet theCity’s needs over an extended period of years. The plan outlines various programs topromote the level of water savings necessary. At all times, the City of Aurora promotes wisewater use and encourages its citizens to support its water conservation programs.For example, in the 2010 WMP, there are 5 drought stages; Stage I is normal and Stage V isextremely dry. No residential lawn watering is allowed between 10 am and 6 pm at anystage. As drought progresses, we go from 3 days/week watering, to 2 days, to 1 day to nolawn watering at all in Stage V.2007 – the Xeriscape Rebate Program is born2009 – The city adopts changes to the landscape code which incentivize property owners toput in xeriscape. The new plant coverage requirement is reduced, making landscaperenovations less costly. 7
  8. 8. Conserve up to 46% of current water useLower water bills or at least keep them at a steadier rate as prices go up in thefuture.Reduce landscape maintenanceEnhance attractiveness (especially in winter) – leave interesting and attractiveseedheads on your plants to add aesthetic appeal to your garden throughout thewinter. Ornamental grasses provide a beautiful winter visual.Provide habitat for wildlife. Owls, songbirds, squirrels…these animals will all findmore food and shelter in a xeriscape than on a grass lawn. 8
  9. 9. This table shows:If you switch your back yard from overwatering your 1,500 square feet of to an idealwatering schedule, it will cost $0 and save you $29 a year.If you switch your side yard from turf to 100% xeric grass (like buffalo grass or bluegrama), it will cost you $100 and save you $61 a year.If you switch your front yard from turf to 100% xeriscape (like mulch and xeric plants),it will cost you $2,500 and save you $108.05 a year.This table shows a simple payback period of 20.8 years for a 1,500 ft 2 xeriscapeconversion, but does not take into account an Aurora xeriscape rebate.With a $1.25/ ft2 rebate, the payback on the “Front Yard – 100% Xeric Conversion”would be under 6 years (5.7 to be exact). 9
  10. 10. Residence 10
  11. 11. Residence 11
  12. 12. Residence front yard 12
  13. 13. Residence front yard 13
  14. 14. Residence front yard 14
  15. 15. Back yard converging into HOA common property 15
  16. 16. Back yard converging into HOA common property 16
  17. 17. Back yard converging into HOA common property 17
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  19. 19. Aurora Water Conservation offers free landscape designs for residential customers.The service has 2 parts: Part One: “Preparing for your Design Consultation” class • Required to receive free design services • Registration not required • Available in lecture format or on-line Part Two: One-on-One Design Consultation • Registration required • Meet with a landscape designer • Bring site survey and photos • Complete site map 19
  20. 20. BasicsDesign elements • Plant features: size, form, texture, color, seasonal appeal, landscape highpoint, contrasts in color and texture, bloom times, growth stages • Pattern: consistency of features • Rhythm: create feeling of motion to lead gaze • Line: the flow of heights (perennial plant tips to tree canopy) • Proportion: visual balance; how parts of the design relate to each other and to the garden as a whole • Transition: gradual change using elements like textures, forms, masses • Masses and Voids: plantings and spaces between • Repetition: repeated use of features to create different effects • Functionality of plant choice. • Viewshed: how does plant material interact with viewsInclude edibles? Ornamental vegetables can be great additions to the xeric garden.Existing conditions? Determine runoff and drainage issues due to slopes and soil.Zone designGroup plants with similar water use togetherCreate irrigation zones to allow for a range of watering levels 20
  21. 21. This photo shows a backyard landscaped with zeroscape, not xeriscape. Zeroscape isthe absence of plant material. Xeriscape is the presence of xeric (low water use)plant material and follows the 7 fundamental xeriscape principles.If this kind of landscape was done in a front yard, it would not meet Aurora city code.City code states that a front yard must be 50% long-lived plant material. It does notspecify what kind of long-lived plant material. 21
  22. 22. You may convert turf areas • where turf is impractical or not useful • where turf needs improvement • where irrigation water is wasted because of a challenging slope 22
  23. 23. The photo on the left shows an area that will have drainage issues due to varyingslope (and it sure looks difficult to mow!)The photo on the right shows an area that has maintenance issues, including but notlimited to mowing difficulty and irrigation issues. 23
  24. 24. Things to consider:Spacing. Know what your plant sizes are at planting compared to maturity and plan accordingly.Water and sun requirements. Don’t put a shade-loving plant in a full-sun area.Color. Know your color compatibility chart! Some colors go together beautifully, others can clash, yes,even in a multi-color garden.Texture. Use a variety of plant material textures. Look for perennials, shrubs, and trees with wideand narrow leaves. Look for shrubs in the juniper family with scale-like leaves. Some perennials haveinteresting seedheads that are soft or fuzzy to the touch.Height. Consider both aesthetics and functionality. Use tall tree to your advantage by shading thesouthern or western side of your home during the hot summer months and reduce your electricity bill.Seasonal interest. Choose ornamental grasses and material with interesting seedheads that may beleft over winter to add seasonal interest.Reproduction: Reproduction method effects maintenance. If you are conscious about letting yourplants reproduce, remember that seedheads are relatively easy to prune, runners are relatively easy topull, rhizomes are somewhat more difficult to dig, and division of bulbs are somewhat in between.Limit varieties if you are a beginning gardener. You’ll have an easier time maintaining your garden.Money Saving Tips: • Share and trade with neighbors • Check out “big box store” sales • Coupons • Be careful with mail order plants, the quality may be lacking 24
  25. 25. These are the four main categories in your plant pallet.Shrubs are woody and usually multi-stemmed. They are perennial, that is they livelonger than two years. Some require pruning in the fall.Perennials, technically, are plants that live longer than two years. For designpurposes, however, the term refers to herbaceous plants, or plants whose greenerydies back every year to bulbs or roots.Trees are woody, usually single-stemmed, and generally grow taller than shrubs.They are perennial. Some trees have been bred to require regular pruning. Manytrees grow fruit or seed pods that require seasonal maintenance.Grasses are an extremely important plant family and include crops, turf, andornamental grasses. Landscaping grasses come in two main types: turf and bunch.Turf grasses form thick, soft mats and stand up to foot traffic. Bunch grasses form intight clusters and are not suitable for foot traffic. Landscaping grasses are perennialand require at least some maintenance. 25
  26. 26. Pros Cons - Longer living - Fewer blooms than perennials - Larger - May need pruning / fall cut back-Provide fall color- Minimal maintenance 26
  27. 27. Pictured here are Aster novae-angliae or New England dwarf aster (left) and Aquilegiacanadensis or columbine (right)Pros Cons - Color and texture variety - Limited winter interest - Replace annuals - Many need spring cut back - Fast growth 27
  28. 28. Pictured are Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ or Hameln fountain grass (left),Pennisetum alopecuroides setaceum Rubrum‘ or purple fountain grass (center), andMiscanthus sinensis Variegatus or variegated maiden grass (right)Pros Cons - Great winter interest - Requires division every 3-4 years - Faster growth - Most need spring cut back - Creates sense of movement - Provide fall color - Mimics the native landscape 28
  29. 29. Pros ConsReduced water use Slow to establishLimited mowing Some grasses are dormant more of the year Intolerant of continuous foot traffic Susceptible to weeds 29
  30. 30. Blooms, seeds, nuts and fruit are a pro or a con depending on your point of view.Saskatoon serviceberry (left), Chanticleer pear (right)Pros Cons- Long living - Initial Cost- Large- Fall interest- Minimal maintenance- Create shade- Blooms and fruit -------------------- - Blooms and fruit 30
  31. 31. Amending is vital. Organic amendments feed soil (aka build soil)! Soil-clay and sandy soils will benefit fromorganic amendment, as it improves texture and breaks up fine clay particles. Amendment also increases thewater holding capacity of sandy soils. Incorporate amendment thoroughly and deeply; it is helpful to apply duringsoil tilling. All amendments are depleted over time, so replenish at least biannually.Compost is decomposed plant material. Add 2-3 inches to your garden every year. Choose material free ofinsecticides, herbicides and weed seeds. A great compost is your recycled debris from last years’ garden, as longas it is mildew/weed free. Wood chips or fresh grass trimmings are not recommended, as they will depletenitrogen from the soil. If you have only partially decomposed plant material, add this mixture in the fall so it hastime to decompose fully.Manure is animal waste. Look for aged/composted manure which does not smell and is dark in color. Freshmanure has the potential to “burn” roots and may be contaminated by bacteria (including e. coli); add this in thefall so it has time to decompose fully. Manure may be high in salts, so add only 1 inch per season.Cover crops are crops that are planted in the fall and allowed to die naturally in the winter. Then theydecompose with tilling in the spring, adding nutrients and aerating the soil. It provides extra fall shade, making aless desirable environment for weeds. Make sure to mow and tilled in at least 3 weeks before planting.Peat moss is low in nutrients and harvesting practices are questionable - peat moss bogs are fragile ecosystems,and peat harvesting greatly disrupts these ecosystems. Not recommended.Fertilizer. Different types of fertilizer have different effects on soil and plant material. Some liken fertilizersupplements to artificial life support and advocate soil building over fertilizing, but soil building takes time.Adding organic amendment is the best place to start. Consider using fertilizer as a once-a-year supplement,especially for leafy crops which require more nitrogen. Natural types of fertilizer: compost tea, guano, wormcastings, bone meal, fish emulsionTo remember when applying fertilizer: Applications near seedlings can burn roots Too much fertilizer can limit fruitingSoil Tests. Determine the chemical composition and pH of your soil. At-home pH kits have been rated and foundwanting – for accurate and comprehensive results, look into CSU tests (for ph, salts, and nutrient levels,recommendations) for $28Money Saving Tips: Amend each hole instead of the entire area; Buy in bulk or make your own compost 31
  32. 32. Do NOT use FABRIC under mulch - it creates an unnatural barrier between soil, air, water,and plants.Mulch is a surface covering applied to the garden bed. It’s benefits include: • retains moisture • prevents erosion • keeps plants clean • provides a place to walk • creates a tidy look • prevents crusting • prevents weeds • prevents compactionCareful! Mulch may slow soil warming in the spring. It may keep the soil more moist than youplanned on, so adjust your irrigation accordingly. Mulch can be a harbor for pests, but it can also be anattractant to birds and other predators who prey on pests. Make sure to mulch thickly, about 3”, todiscourage beetles. This is not for everybody, but letting 2-3 of your chickens pick at your garden bedover the fall and winter will get rid of insects, eggs, and seeds! Plus, a few chickens will add greatfertilizer to your soil. (Current city law bans chickens in residential zones, but some homes are onagriculture zones that allow this use)Organic vs. InorganicPlastic is not recommended. They warm soil, are expensive, need to be disposed of, add nothingpositive to the soil, and prevent water and oxygen from flowing between soil layers.Wood chips, straw, grass clippings, newspaper will all decompose over time (wood chips take thelongest) and, once fully decomposed will add vital nutrients. Once decomposed, they can be tilled (ornot) into the soil and fresh mulch should be added. Fresh wood chips/straw/clippings must not betilled into the soil, as they will use your soil’s nitrogen and leave less for your plants. Apply 3” ofmaterial when plants are about 6” tall.Money Saving Tips: • Free city mulch @ Dawson & Hampden next to the Griswold Water Treatment Plant • Cover free mulch with more decorative mulch 32
  33. 33. Basics 1. Do not water xeriscape like it is turf! Plants do not need much water and can be harmed by overwatering. 2. Use irrigation zones that are programmed to supply different amounts of water (that align with that zone’s plant material) and use the same system components in each zone 3. Perform regular maintenance to verify that your system is working properlyGetting Started Before you do anything else, search for and fix leaks. You may not need to purchase / install new equipment, you may be able your existing system to your new design.Resources Free irrigation audits through the Center for Resource Conservation, call 303- 999-3820 ext. 217 City of Aurora Irrigation rebate, up to a maximum of $300 for a home or $2,500 for a large property. See the website for details: https://www.auroragov.org/AuroraGov/Departments/AuroraWater/WaterCon servation/OutdoorWater/035068?ssSourceNodeId=658&ssSourceSiteId=621 Attend FREE city of Aurora class “Irrigation 101” 33
  34. 34. Weekly / Monthly Maintenance includes weeding if needed and “deadheading”,which means removing spent blooms before the plant produces a seedhead. Thisprocess encourages re-blooming AND stops the spread of unwanted seeds.Seasonally Prune shrubs and divide ornamental grasses if needed for optimal planthealth. Ornamental grasses require division every three to four years, depending onthe species, to remove the deadened middle of the mature clump. Only divide in thespring. Compost the removed material; disease-free grasses are the perfect mulchfor a vegetable garden.Resources 1. Free Aurora Water Conservation online class “Xeriscape Maintenance” 2. Volunteer in Aurora’s xeriscape demonstration garden! Volunteers are essential to the maintenance and development of Aurora’s 6-acre xeriscape garden. Call Diana Denwood at 720-859-4407 or email ddenwood@auroragov.org for more information. 34
  35. 35. May receive up to $1.00/ft2 for planting materials. An additional $.25/ft2 may beavailable for hardscape features in a front yard.Minimum area of 500 ft2 and max of 10,000 ft2 (for a home) and 25,000 ft2 (for alarge/commercial property)Requirements:• Initial approval.• Eligibility is determined through current water use, consumption history, and turfcondition.• Eligibility is subject to staff consideration.•• 35
  36. 36. Here is the water consumption history of a homeowner who replaced his expansive bluegrasslawn with xeriscape in 2009. His application was for the removal of 2,616 square feet andreplacement with pea gravel, river rock, “moss” rocks, and xeric plant material.This graph shows major decreases in inches of water applied to turf and to beds in year 2009onward. Aurora Water Conservation wants to see only 28 inches of water applied to a lawnannually. In years 2006 through 2008, the homeowner applied 35 inches or more annually.In 2009, this amount dropped dramatically to 11 inches, and continued dropping. 36
  37. 37. A photo of the front yard from the side. 37
  38. 38. Another angle, looking down the side of the house. 38
  39. 39. The homeowner was rebated $2,237, which comes out to about $.85 per square foot. Thereason he earned only $.85 instead of the maximum $1 is because his total plant coveragewas only 92%. A full dollar per square foot rebate is earned when the homeowner plans forand succeeds in 100% plant coverage.Here is a photo from 2010, two years after the landscaping was completed. 39
  40. 40. Approximate annual savings. 40
  41. 41. Because indoor water use remained virtually the same over these 6 years, we know that allof these savings came from a reduction in irrigation. 41
  42. 42. Free Classes• available through Water Conservation, online or classroom• available through CSU extension, visit http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Landscape Design Consultations• Also available free• Required if you are applying for the xeriscape rebateRebates• Xeriscape rebate for replacing turf lawn with xeriscape, up to $1.50 per square foot• Toilet up to $75 Application can be found here:• Same website: https://www.auroragov.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/article-publication/449375.pdfAudits, indoor and outdoor, are available at no cost to Aurora Water customers.Youth Education ProgramsXeriscape Volunteer Program. Work in Aurora’s beautiful, 6-acre xeriscape demonstrationgarden! Contact Diana Denwood at ddenwood@auroragov.org or 720-859-4407Water Smart Readers are available at a low rate to Aurora Water customersLarge Property Water Efficiency Program or LPWEP, is available to commercial properties.Low-Income Fixture Replacement Program, available to low-income households, providesno-cost replacement of inefficient water fixtures in the home. 42
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