CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Converting to Xeriscape, with some help!

Guest post from Adams County Colorado Master Gardener Heidi Stark. 

Plants laid out after arrival 

I recently helped a relative convert about 200 square feet of turf in her yard to a xeric garden. She had been contemplating it for a while, realizing that the grass in that area was chronically thin with large bare spots. There are organizations like ReSource Central that provide garden kits to help jump start a xeriscape conversion. In early spring, she did some research and decided to purchase a Garden in a Box to replace the existing turf. She settled on the Splendid Seasons box, the largest one offered on the Resource Central website. The kit offered a nice mix of grasses and herbaceous perennials that create interest in her landscape 365 days a year.

Since xeric plants are happier growing in a leaner soil with less water than turf, she added two tons of squeegee, small rock about ¼-inch in size, that increases drainage and reduces the present organic matter to roughly 3% to 4%. She had the squeegee tilled in to a depth of 6 inches.  Then she waited to be contacted by Resource Central that her plants were ready!

Figuring out the best spacing

The Garden in a Box system is a great way to put in a xeric perennial garden without much forethought. The predesigned kits have landscape plans that are simple to comprehend and have a color layout with mature dimensions on the gridded paper that anyone can follow to plant a diverse, colorful, exciting design. There are many options for almost anyone’s desires. You can look up in your area to see if your city, water service or other providers have resources for you to do a similar conversion. 

When the plants arrived, we set a day to plant. First, using the color layout plan, we took each container and set it out on the prepared area with sufficient space between the plants to represent what mature size would be. At first, we thought there would be too many plants for the space. However, once all the pots were placed on the ground, it was evident that they needed to be spaced further apart to make the area symmetrical. So, we inched the pots here and there until the layout looked right. 

Root washing small plants is
easy with a plastic bucket

Since the plants are grown in a nursery under ideal conditions in cushy container soil, we decided to root wash each plant before putting it in the ground. This encourages the roots to spread out into the native soil and avoids circling roots, which can be detrimental.  

The entire planting process took about two hours.  We watered the newly planted perennials and stood back to admire our work. She now plans to convert her existing sprinkler zone to a drip system. She purchased some conversion kits for her pop-up sprinklers that will direct the correct amount of water to each plant. Since she can manually regulate the water to that zone, she will not overwater these plants as she might if they were planted in an area on a schedule that’s programmed for turf. Once established, which can take up to two years, these plants should not need any extra irrigation unless we experience a prolonged hot, dry period. 

The finished result - For this year!

Total cost of the project was roughly $700 between the cost of a landscaper rototilling in the squeegee, the Garden in a Box package, and the sprinkler conversion parts. Some water districts are helping to defray the cost of such a turf conversion to encourage residents in the Denver area to make this change.


As she said to me before I left, “It will be interesting to see how it thrives in year 2.” And how much this change will make a dent in her summer water bill.




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  2. So glad to see someone root washing the media off the roots!