Sustainable Summer Gardening in Colorado

Sustainable Summer Gardening in Colorado

If you live in Colorado—where water is a finite resource, and summer seems to extend into October—you likely think a lot about summer water use and how gardening in the hotter months can be more sustainable. Since we’re in July, and we’re really starting to feel the toll of the sun on our outdoor spaces, I wanted to pass along some tips and bits of wisdom.

Microclimates & Mulch

I do a lot to reduce my water usage for Colorado gardening. First and foremost, I start with plants that use less water, varieties that are more appropriate for Colorado—and I've considered microclimates within my own yard. My lawn is a low-water grass mix of ryegrass and fescue. Denver water rules don't allow us to water between 10 am and 6 pm, May through September—and even then, it’s only twice a week. It’s better to water thoroughly and less often to encourage deeper root growth—and, it’s best to follow Denver (or your county’s) guidelines on how many minutes to water, depending on your sprinkler type. A few easy rules of thumb: don't water on windy or rainy days; always make sure watering systems are working properly and water isn't pooling onto the street or anywhere else it shouldn't be; and mow at the highest setting (3-4") in dry and hot months as well, which helps to encourage healthier grass growth and discourage weeds.

I hand water my veggies daily in the morning, and after 6 p.m. on really hot days—however, my perennials are all on a drip system. The advantage to a drip system is that watering is highly focused on the plant roots only, and they're watered below my mulch and rock, which means very little evaporation is happening, and the majority of the water is going straight to the plant. It's also a slow drip; this helps the soil absorb and then retain moisture. Healthy soil is better at retaining water as well. Compost and an appropriate blend of sand, silt and clay, will help soil drain and retain water, as well as encourage healthy plant growth (although different plants have different requirements to the type of soil they prefer).

Finally, mulch is a great way to keep the ground cooler! It prevents water evaporation and holds moisture longer. I use rock, wood chips, and ground covers in different parts of my yard to vary my mulch’s visual and functional effects. I use wood chips closer to the house for their cooling effect (just spotted some morel mushrooms in my wood chips last week!), and rock where I've planted my largest, low-water shrubs. Low-water ground covers can also be a very fun and attractive way to break up the monotony of "mulch" options as well, and some are hardy and soft enough to walk on. Thyme and stonecrop/sedums are some of my favorites to use. Side note: bare soil does not like to stay bare. Think of it as the earth's way of protecting its very precious resource. Notice how bare exposed soil doesn't stay that way for long—with weeds taking over if necessary.

Myths & Misconceptions

In terms of longer term garden planning for hot and sunny environs, I want to be transparent about the misconceptions around low-water and xeric gardening (xeric is the practice of designing your home garden or yard with drought-resistant plants). One that makes me cringe a bit is…all rock yards. Rock tends to create a lot of heat around a home, which then creates a situation that requires greater energy, and even water, to cool the home. Another misconception is that xeric means low-work! Xeric gardens still require ample love, pruning, cleaning, and even water, until plants are established—which can take a year or two.

Thank you for listening to my summer gardening TED Talk! I hope this helps with all of your hot weather gardening needs—and if you need more guidance, we’re always here for you—just give us a call or say hi at the shop.

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