Dryland landscaping: Combining beauty and conservation

"Xeros," or dry landscaping, has already reshaped many ordinance books in cities along Colorado's Front Range, and local officials say that some of the same drought-response measures will soon hit Craig.

Craig planners continue to reevaluate city landscaping regulations in view of the state's water worries and studies indicating as much as 50 percent of household water is used for lawns and gardens.

A set of new, Xeros-friendly landscaping recommendations could be sent to the city's planning and zoning board by mid-April, said Dave Costa, Craig's community development director.

"We're trying to be more consistent with the majority of Colorado communities' landscaping provisions," Costa said. "But we're just in a search-and-review stage at this point."

Gravel and, or, stone now can make up no more than 25 percent of a homeowner's lawn, while current regulations also make no mention of the use of bark, wood chips or other decomposable materials, Costa said.

However, seas of gravel and rock packed over plastic alone aren't Xeriscaping -- a common, potentially harmful misconception that has already taken hold in several western communities, officials said.

"It's not just rock gardens," Costa said. "But also the utilization of plant materials which consume a limited amount of water, if done correctly."

The city has already identified a list of Xeric plants (see graphic) that "should survive" given Craig's climate and altitude.

"Once established, they take a minimal amount of water but the hard part is getting them to take hold," Costa said.

John Balliette, Colorado State University Moffat County Extension Agent, said drought alone doesn't account for Xeriscaping's increased popularity.

Time and money are saved.

"With both spouses working more, people just don't want to spend a whole lot of time working with lawns," he said.

Planning -- whether doing a landscape redesign or starting from scratch -- is a critical first step, while several measures should be considered prior to ripping out any sod, local officials said.

As a general rule, south and west exposures on a property are where the greatest water losses occur -- particularly areas near buildings or paved surfaces, according to Moffat County's CSU Extension Office.

Water can be saved just by choosing low-use plants for those areas.

Terracing slopes on property will also reduce water runoff, which allows more water to soak into the soil. Homeowners should also pay attention to the make-up of the soil itself, consisting ideally "of a good balance of sand, silt and clay," recommends CSU's Extension Office.

"A good soil is not made in just one year. Add organic materials annually to garden areas."

Balliette also suggested investing in fibrous weed barriers, which should be placed along fences, while strips of irrigated turf in hard-to-reach corners of yards should be avoided in favor of drought resistant plants or grasses.

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