By Adam Thompson
Have you heard of the recent “Xeriscape Bill” [SB 23-178] that was signed into law at the end of May? This new bill overrides pre-existing HOA guidelines that restricted residents from installing xeriscape, artificial turf, and vegetable gardens in their yards. The intent of the bill is to promote water-wise landscapes. Some fear this bill will bring a reduced home values and aesthetic appeal to their neighborhoods. Others see the bill as an opportunity for communities to develop their own unique look, rather than the ‘cookie cutter’ manicured turf landscapes and shrub beds that are common in most residential developments.
Across the front range, steady population growth is bringing in new developments that are putting increased demands on our water supply. Water costs make up a significant portion of an HOA’s budget and we are seeing spikes in water prices as demand makes this resource scarcer.
So what is Xeriscape and what do each of the new changes mean?
Xeriscape (not “zero-scape”) is an approach to landscaping that is mindful of water usage to grow and maintain a landscape. It is not the elimination of water needed to maintain the landscape. Xeriscapes can, and do, include plants and even turf - although many experts would limit turf to areas where it will serve a purpose.
- Drought tolerant plantings must now be allowed to at least 80% of a resident’s yard. This change allows much of the turf to be removed and replaced with drought tolerant plants. We have many great examples of how nice these landscapes can look, while simultaneously reducing maintenance costs when low maintenance plants are utilized.
- Nonvegetative turf grass, more commonly known as artificial turf, is no longer restricted in back yards. Artificial turf is a polarizing subject because it is a visual and tactile replacement for turf that requires no regular irrigation, but these areas become heat islands, still require maintenance to keep them nice, and generate plastic waste when they are no longer useful.
- Vegetable gardens may be the most contentious item on the bill for some communities but when properly planned out, they can be as attractive as any conventional landscape. They help to build a sense of community in an HOA because when people have gardens, they tend to spend more time in their yards which betters the chances that they will get to know their neighbors. How many conflicts do you deal with daily that could be resolved if people would just take the time to get to know their neighbors? Veggie gardens aren’t sounding so bad anymore, are they?
Three pre-approved designs are required for every community which will enable residents and boards to start xeriscape implementation without overburdening the ARCs. Many free designs are available at https://plantselect.org/design/downloadable-designs/ or residents can submit their own water-wise designs for approval. It may be preferable for a community to work with a landscape designer to create a proprietary set of designs and work to establish a common theme.
While there might be a strong push for people to convert their yards to drought tolerant design, several considerations should be made before committing to a yard renovation:
- What plants should be used?
- Plants should be selected for their ability to survive in our climate.
- Native plants are a great place to start. Another great resource is Plant Select https://plantselect.org/ which publishes a list of recommended plants annually.
- How will the area be maintained to keep a visually appealing landscape throughout the year?
- Xeriscapes tend to require less maintenance and create less waste as plants are allowed to grow naturally and only require pruning as needed.
- Plant selection should consider appeal in all seasons.
- How will this new area be irrigated?
- We cannot just replace the landscape without adjusting the irrigation system.
- Plants should be grouped into “hydrozones” based on their exposure and irrigation needs.
- Will the new design save more water than the original design?
- Whenever new plants are installed, they have an establishment period where they need more water than they do during their maintenance period.
- Sometimes maintenance standards (and residents’ expectations) can be modified to save water without needing to renovate the entire yard.
How ever you choose to implement these new rules, I hope you see it as an opportunity to improve the beauty of your yard and your neighborhood.
Adam Thompson holds a B.S. Degree in Landscape Design & Management and has worked in the landscape industry since 2007 working in construction and maintenance between single family homes to resort properties.