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Xeriscaping: good for nature – and gardeners

The water-saving gardening technique is friendly to the environment and 'lazy gardeners' alike.

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I'd been house hunting for months when the realtor stopped in front of a little ranch-style house, and I instantly knew I was home. This one definitely spoke to me. The house was shaded by a large ash tree on one side of the yard and a small maple on the other. The lawn was lush and emerald green.

But in my excitement I failed to notice that the yard had no sprinkler system. I might as well confess: I'm a lazy gardener. I had no idea of the amount of hose-dragging I would need to do to keep that lawn green.

I live in Colorado. Despite substantial snowfalls in the mountains each winter, the state's average annual precipitation is only 17 inches. That means we almost qualify as a desert.

Still, with average precipitation and a little irrigation, our lawns can be just as thick as any to the east, where rainfall is more abundant. Whether it's a good idea is another story. But at that point, it's what I wanted.

The summer after I bought the house, there was less precipitation than the year before. I found myself spending too much time dragging the hose around the yard. I also found that it was difficult to water the corners without watering the sidewalk. So my beautiful turf began to turn a little brown around the edges.

The next year was even drier, and I had a nagging feeling my hose-dragging days were numbered. Surely it was only a matter of time before mandatory watering restrictions would be imposed.

The idea of taking care of a lawn during a drought spurred me to action. I would transform that thirsty, sunburned landscape into one that used less water – and required a lot less work. I had read about xeriscaping (ZEER-uh-scaping), a landscaping technique that conserves water by reducing the amount of irrigated turf and adding drought-tolerant native plants.

Armed with a plan, a can of orange spray paint, and a shovel, I dug in. Following the orange, peanut-shaped outline I had painted on the lawn, I dug up large chunks of my once-lovely sod.

Shovelful by shovelful, I removed the grass, piled it into an old red wheelbarrow, and wobbled it across the street to a neighbor's house. As quickly as I was digging the grass up from my yard, he was laying it down in his. I was delighted. Every piece of turf delivered to my neighbor meant less lawn for me to water, weed, rake, fertilize, and mow.

Every weekend that May. I'd pull on my worn leather work gloves early on Saturday and dig until the sun made it too hot to continue.

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