CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Gardening for Drought Conditions

Here in Western Colorado we only got ½ of our average moisture last year and we are not doing any better this year.  Although the North and East portion of the state has gotten more moisture, since waters from Western Colorado are piped over the divide to Eastern Colorado, we all win if we can use our water sparingly.


Drought Intensities

·               None: No Drought
·               D0: Abnormally Dry
·               D1: Moderate Drought
·               D2: Severe Drought
·               D3: Extreme Drought
·               D4: Exceptional Drought

Concerns with drought are saving trees since they are much more permanent and provide so many benefits from shade to reduction of crime and about 100 more reasons to have trees.  Water for the trees.

 Often we see people retrofit their landscape to xeriscape (dry scape or low water landscapes)but they forget about the needs of the trees

Xeriscape does NOT have to mean cactus and succulents, but we love ours at the TRA Mesa County Extension Office, Photo by Susan L. Carter

And certainly there are certain situations where we need grass like ballfields areas for pets etc…  But we can minimize the amount of lawn and water features that are not necessary.
If starting a new landscape, use the principals of xeriscape.

Note I did not say ZERO scape, there is no such thing and rockscapes are very hot and increase cooling needs of your home and business thus using more water. Use plants that require less water like native plants suited to your elevation and area are great choices.
Studying Plants on the Grand Mesa, Photo By Susan L. Carter
And consider that sometimes we have areas that are naturally wetter such as drainages or seeps, so install plants that like more moisture in those situations.  We call that Right Plant, Right Place. 
Here is a recent video I did for our area on ideas to save water. Water Landscape Drought Go to the Pro Tip:

And some quick bullet points of what is in the video as well as additional tips.
  •  Turn off your sprinklers before there is runoff.  Runoff lets us know the soil is a “field Capacity”, can hold no more water, and may deprive the roots of oxygen thus suffocating your plants.
  • Make sure you are not irrigating hardscapes such as patios, driveways and sidewalks.
  • Use a long skinny screwdriver or soil moisture to check moisture at 6” or deeper depth to determine if you need to water.
  • Water at night.  And don’t set it and forget it; I’m talking about your irrigation clock.  Watering needs peak in July.  Then start to reduce irrigation to slow plants down for fall.  They will acclimate better to winter and be healthier.
  • Never water everyday unless you just installed seed or sod.  Then water daily for the first month and start switching to less frequent deeper soaks to get roots deeper.  If you have to water daily to keep plants alive then something else is wrong like improper irrigation system setup or soil issues.  See our LISA, Landscape Irrigation Self Audit Website, and ask your local Agent if they have a kit you can check out.
  • Turf will get a blue tinge or footprints will stay in the lawn when it needs water.
  • Group plants with similar watering needs together.  This is called Hydrozoning.
  • Watering During Drought Factsheet:

You can create beautiful landscapes using low water plants it your choices are much larger than just cactus, although they can be beautiful too. 

Yellowhorn Tree and other Xeric Plants at Mesa County CSUE TRA office
And remember when first planting, even a cactus needs water to get established.  So be a savvy water-er and check your plants and soil before you water and we will all benefit.  Enjoy where we live, it’s a drier state. 

By Susan Carter, Horticulture Agent, CSUE Tri River Area.

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