Strength in the Face of Drought: How to Cope With Water Restrictions

by Jesse Eastman


I come to you with a request, nay, a plea. I know it will be a dry year, and most likely a hot one, too. The City of Fort Collins has announced that starting April 1, 2013, Level 1 Water Restrictions will go into effect (More info here: In spite of all this, I am begging you PLEASE do not give up on your garden!

Of course, this may sound a little biased, a nursery owner telling you to keep on gardening even when water is tight, but here’s the thing: The best gardens in the world highlight plants that thrive in the local environment. You won’t see botanic gardens in Hawaii showcasing bristlecone pine, and you won’t see an arboretum in Moscow growing mango trees in their best demonstration garden. Nonetheless, both Hawaii and Moscow host incredible displays of horticultural wonder, and they do this by accepting the environment in which they exist and then reveling in it.  Here in Colorado, we live in a high plains desert, and if we embrace that fact, we can have truly awesome gardens and yards, even in a dry year.

Level 1 Water Restrictions do not impact landscape watering. They do limit lawn watering to two days a week. If the variety of grass you have in your lawn is chosen wisely, you can have a vibrant green lawn this year despite the restrictions. There are many blended lawn varieties that are well suited for a hot dry climate like ours such as Tuff Turf (Perennial rye, hard fescue, and Kentucky Bluegrass) and Front Range Classic (tall fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass). These blended types still achieve the rich lush green for which Kentucky Bluegrass is so well known, but maintain strong growth even under heat and drought stress thanks to the ryes and fescues blended into the mix. Water your lawn early in the morning to minimize water loss to evaporation. This allows the grass leaves to dry out as the sun warms up, reducing the risk of fungal and bacterial problems that can run rampant when water is applied in the evening and then left to sit on the leaves all night.

With no restrictions on landscape watering, good watering practices are more critical than ever. Take advantage of the opportunity to keep your landscape plants healthy by watering with a slow trickle, allowing time for the water to penetrate the soil and reach those roots deep in the ground. If you see any water pooling up on the surface of the soil or running off, slow down the flow and give it time to sink in. This is important both for new and established plants. For new plants, this will draw the roots deep, minimizing the risk
If you are considering adding plants to your landscape (and I hope you will), I encourage you to take a look at the multitude of beautiful drought-tolerant plants that are available. Ranging from the traditional options like Russian Sage and Yarrow to the more unique and exciting options such as Red Hot Poker and Chieftain Manzanita, drought resistant plants will surely be the highlights in this year’s gardens, and can dramatically reduce the cost of watering and maintenance, even in future years when drought is not a concern. of dry surface conditions. For established plants, this may be the only way to get water to the roots, as they should have already put down nice deep roots.

With all this in mind, consider for a moment the consequences of giving up on your yard. If you’re anything like me, you’ve invested a pretty penny in creating a landscape that should last for years to come. As you are probably aware, there is no such thing as a “set-it-and-forget-it” landscape, and this year is no different. The cost of maintaining your yard through a dry year pales in comparison to the cost of recuperating a yard that has been left to languish in extreme conditions. Even well-established trees and shrubs need a little extra help sometimes, and losing them can set your yard back significantly, not to mention your check book. So please, I implore you, for the sake of your yard and your wallet, don’t give up. Giving your landscape a helping hand through the upcoming dry season may be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself!

Originally published on March 8th, 2013.