Turn Down The Tap

Kentucky is famous for a few things–among them its bluegrass lawns.

Xeriscaping is becoming popular in many drought-prone areas. Photo Courtesy © Can Stock Photo Inc. / EcoPicture

What you may not know is that while bluegrass is native to practically all of Europe, northern Asia and the mountains of Algeria and Morocco, it is not native to North America.

Apparently, early colonists to North Carolina, Tennessee and, of course, Kentucky brought grass seed in mixtures with other grasses that later became known as Kentucky bluegrass.

Bluegrass is unique because it can be lush, growing from 18 to 24 inches, and, at least during the spring and summer, the shoots are very upright. To grow to these heights, bluegrass also demands a tremendous amount of water, which is becoming a problem.

Today, in many areas of Kentucky, commercial and residential property owners have been literally yanking out the prized bluegrass lawns and replacing them with more native turf, as well as poppies and bellflowers.

These may not be as lush, but they do add much more color to lawns. Moreover, the main reason owners are doing this is to conserve the most precious resource–water.

Perhaps unknowingly, these property owners are actually part of a movement called xeriscaping, which is growing throughout the country.

Understanding Xeriscaping

From the Greek word for dry, xeriscaping essentially refers to landscaping that uses less water. The term was coined in 1981 by Nancy Leavitt, an environmental planner with the Denver Water Department, and resulted from studies that indicated more than 50 percent of public utility water was being used for landscaping in certain areas of the city and state.

For many years, xeriscaping received little attention. One reason was that, 30 years ago, people even in drought-ridden sections of the United States believed water shortages were temporary problems. The attitude was that a heavy downpour or two would make everything fine again.

However, more and more people, including public officials, believe water shortages today are long-term problems–even in areas of the country blessed with an ample amount of rainfall.

Additionally, many facility managers believed xeriscaping referred to rock- and cactus-type gardens, similar to what one would see in a desert. This is not the case at all. Instead, one aspect of xeriscaping refers to grouping plants together with similar moisture needs. This uses water more responsibly, and eliminates over-wetting and wasteful practices.

However, xeriscaping received a big push in the 1990s when a major Las Vegas hotel converted acres of lush lawns and vegetation–which were more suitable to areas of the country like New England and Washington State, but certainly not dry Nevada–to more native plants that demand considerably less water.

Not only has water consumption dropped by two-thirds, but so has the cost of water fed to the hotel property.

The Xeriscaping Seven Steps

Originally, xeriscaping involved simply replacing heavy water-consuming vegetation, such as bluegrass lawns, with less water-demanding plants native to a region. However, as the concept has grown in interest, it has also grown structurally.

[caption id="attachment_15737" align="alignright" width="300" caption="There are many attractive alternatives to water-loving bluegrass lawns. Photo Courtesy Roberston Landscaping Colorado

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