Tips and tricks for planning and designing your own xeric garden

This guest blog post is part of our Transforming Landscapes series, introducing fresh, new ideas for upgrading your lawn to a more water-efficient landscape. Also check out Wildscaping: Landscape for healthy habitat and Plants that add color to help you think outside the box when planning for your landscape transformation next spring.


Morgan Zeliff

Morgan Zeliff

Tips and tricks for planning and designing your own xeric garden

Morgan Zeliff is the program manager for research and evaluation at the Center for ReSource Conservation. She works with the sustainability division to evaluate the impact of CRC’s programs on the greater Colorado community.

Creating a xeriscape garden doesn’t have to be scary or even difficult. In Colorado there are an increasing amount of resources specifically designed to help homeowners and businesses convert their yards to more water-efficient, climate-appropriate and drought-tolerant landscapes.

And, the good news is that xeric gardens can be very attractive too.  But what if you don’t know the first thing about landscape design?

Here are some tips, tricks and insights that will start you on the path to a beautiful new plot of low-water landscape, and advice from a once-novice, Colorado gardener.

Established Garden-In-A-Box.

Established Garden-In-A-Box.

First, it’s good to consider where you want to plant your garden and what you want that space to be used for in the future. Sketch out a diagram of your property or walk outside to observe the area while asking some questions, including:

  • How big is the space?
  • How much sun does it get?
  • Is there a big tree or building next to it that blocks sunshine for several hours of the day?
  • Does the area get full sun from morning until night?
  • Is it on a slope?
  • Will it be an area that has a lot of dog traffic?
  • Will it primarily serve to enhance your property’s visual appeal?

For further help with this process, check out Colorado State University Cooperative Extension’s gardening website.

Next, it’s time to choose the plants. Yikes! This is another difficult step for a gardening novice. The list of things to consider for each plant can be overwhelming.

One great place to start is the Garden-In-A-Box program, offered by Denver Water, and run and operated by the Center for ReSource Conservation. The GIAB program provides professionally designed “plant-by-number” water-wise gardens to residents and businesses across the Front Range. Each garden consists of 15-30 plants chosen specifically for the climate and soil types in Colorado, and includes care instructions for each plant. These gardens make the planning, designing and basic care of a xeric garden simple for the beginning gardener. You can sign up now at the program website to receive an alert when the 2014 gardens go on sale in March.

One of the plant-by-numbers designs that is included with Garden-In-A-Box.

One of the plant-by-numbers designs that is included with Garden-In-A-Box.

Beyond this program there are several online resources that offer help with plant selection and landscape layout design specifically for the Colorado climate:

  • Planttalk Colorado This site provides up-to-date advice on all things related to growing plants in Colorado.
    • See their design link to get started. They also have an easy form to submit questions to their experts who will reply directly to you via email.
  • Plant Select®, which is an extension of Planttalk, has free, xeric garden landscapes designs in PDF form.
  • A non-website-based, free resource for all kinds of gardening questions is the Colorado Master Gardner hotline (Denver specific number is 720-913-5278).
Gleason completely converted her front yard to Xeriscape using Garden-In-A-Box. Photo courtesy of Julie Gleason.

Gleason completely converted her front yard to Xeriscape using Garden-In-A-Box. Photo courtesy of Julie Gleason.

Also, the Garden-In-A-Box program has helped many novice gardeners plant high-quality, beautiful xeriscape gardens. Julie Gleason, GIAB customer, said that while she lacked gardening knowledge and was not “creative enough to design a garden,” she was determined in her quest for a better yard.  She couldn’t afford a landscaper, but when she came across the GIAB program a few years ago, it sounded like it would be worth a try. After four years, she eventually converted her whole front yard using the GIAB professionally designed gardens.

Gleason explained that one of her favorite aspects of the GIAB gardens is that the plants are all perennials, meaning that once planted and established, they keep growing year after year. When asked to give tips to others who may be starting in the same place she was a few years ago, Gleason recommends going to demonstration gardens for inspiration. You can find gardens in Denver and nearby communities online, including:

While the sources listed above are not all-inclusive, hopefully this is a good start to get any level of gardener up and moving toward a more sustainable and beautiful landscape. Fall is a great time to start thinking about what you want to turn your yard into next spring and summer. So, be persistent, and start planning your xeric garden today!

3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for your nice tips .


  2. I have made a few sketches of the designs that I would like to have for our landscape. Our yard gets a lot of sun so we want to be able to plant some trees to provide some shade in the future. Would you suggest giving my designs to a contractor so that they can provide advice and input of their own? I’ll have to keep that list of questions that you provide in mind so that I can continue improving the design.


    • Posted by Denver Water on May 18, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Thanks for your comment. We recommend visiting the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado’s website. You can find a landscape pro, ask an expert and much more.


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