Xeriscape Your Way Back to Nature With Texture and Color: Low Water + High Impact

By Kathy Kimrough

By Kathy Kimrough

Illustrations by Grace Rupp 

Illustrations by Grace Rupp 

Xeriscape is a method of gardening that conserves water, reduces environmental impact, and brings nature into our lives. No matter where you live, with a bit of planning you can create a low-water landscape with color and interest all year round. Let’s look at the basic principles of xeriscaping and find ways to incorporate them into our own Western Slope landscapes. (And keep in mind: Xeric does not mean “native.” It means “water-wise.”)

    There are many types of xeric landscaping styles. Consider where you live, and honor your neighborhood by creating a landscape in harmony with your environment. Do you live in a well-established neighborhood with large trees, shrubs, and lush lawns? Do you reside in a newer subdivision where the landscape is mostly native plants, rock mulch, and decorative boulders? You can incorporate xeric gardening principles in both cases by choosing the right plants, by watering and fertilizing efficiently, and by mulching adequately to suppress weeds and conserve water.

Lilacs add fragrance and a classic, cozy feel to a xeric garden.

Lilacs add fragrance and a classic, cozy feel to a xeric garden.

    Soil analysis and preparation are key to a successful landscape. If you take care of your soil, it will take care of your landscape. Western Colorado has two main types of soils — heavy clay and sand. Most soil is heavy clay with poor drainage, though we even have salty soils in some areas. All these potential problems can be mitigated by amending with quality organic matter such as compost.

    The biggest water-saving strategy is creating efficient irrigation. Check your system routinely for any problems, and water only when needed. (Here in western Colorado, landscapes typically need much less water in April and October than in June and July.)

    Even a lush, green lawn can be part of a xeriscape if you’re careful about which variety of grass you choose and limit it to just those areas where it makes sense. Two good choices are blue grama and tall fescue. For durability and drought-tolerant lawns, Kentucky bluegrass is another option. You could also use a groundcover for areas with little to no foot traffic.

    Xeriscaping also means gardening with sustainability in mind. Reduce environmental impacts by choosing local materials, recycling natural items like rocks and boulders, and composting yard waste.

     Strengthen your bond to nature by choosing plants that are native, non-invasive, and beneficial to both pollinators and wildlife. Finally, try reducing the unnecessary use of powered machines like leaf blowers and lawnmowers. Consider a “human-powered” lawn mower, and get a good workout as a bonus.

        Personally, I have a “No Bare Earth” policy for my landscape. I would rather cover the ground with plants than mulch, wherever possible. Look for interesting plant combinations with the same cultural requirements. I plant hardy plumbago under ‘Alleghany’ viburnum and lilacs. Turkish veronica thrives among peonies, lilacs, and iris. Prairie zinnia’s bright yellow flowers complement the violet, blue, and green of Mojave sage. Another standout is ‘Orange Carpet’ zauschneria under a ‘Miss Kim’ (dwarf) lilac.

Water-wise perennials brighten the landscape and attract pollinators.

Water-wise perennials brighten the landscape and attract pollinators.

    A few of my favorite perennials are agastache, Mojave sage, and lavender. These plants thrive in full sun, lean soil, and dry conditions — yet they are colorful and fragrant for months at a time. Combine them with butterfly bushes, dwarf lilacs, and red yucca.

    With the right preparation and plant selection, you will see how xeriscaping delivers textures and colors that are very pleasing to the eye and the earth — not at all stark and barren like some sort of “zero-scape”! 

Buy Local, Plant Local

All garden centers in the Grand Valley offer xeric and native plants. Most offer Plant Select® varieties, grown and specifically developed for the Rocky Mountain region by the Denver Botanic Gardens and CSU Extension. 

Locally owned garden centers include:

Bookcliff Gardens  

26 Road in Grand Junction

Chelsea Nursery  

G Road in Clifton

Mt. Garfield Nursery  

Patterson Road in Grand Junction

Valley Grown Nursery  

24½ Road in Grand Junction

High Country Gardens, a reputable nationwide mail-order company, has an informative website with photos and descriptions of many xeric plants. highcountrygardens.com

Hummingbirds (and most humans) find trumpet vine irresistable.

Hummingbirds (and most humans) find trumpet vine irresistable.

Excellent Plant Choices for Our Area


‘Green Vase’ zelkova, ‘Fort McNair’ red horsechestnut, ‘Winter King’ hawthorn, bur oak


Panchito manzanita, fern bush, ‘Powis Castle’ artemesia, western sandcherry, red yucca


‘Whirling Butterflies’ gaura, all penstemons and salvias, zauschneria


‘Blonde Ambition’ blue grama grass, maidenhair grass, Shenandoah switchgrass