Low-Maintenance Landscaping in Denver

Low maintenance backyard

If you’ve ever tried to plant flowers before the last frost in Denver, you know the climate can be tricky with its wild weather variations. Cold temperatures in the winter, hot days in the summer, snowfall, heavy rains, damaging hail, drought … you get the picture. The soil is also less than ideal, ranging from sticky clay to rocky with little organic matter. Given these challenges, it makes sense to design a landscape that’s on the hardy side. Majestic lawns and gardens are possible, and if you choose the right plants, you won’t have to work too hard to maintain them. Read on for ideas on creating low maintenance landscaping in Denver.

Hardscaping

Hardscaping, mulch and xeriscaping in the backyard. Credit: Jay@MorphoLA, CC 2.0.

You can cut down on the amount of yard you need to mow by expanding the hardscaping. Not familiar with the term? Hardscape is the “hard” part of your landscape, like stone or concrete. Incorporate paved, rock, or gravel surfaces like patios, stepping stones, or pathways in your landscaping. You can add new textures and visual interest with these features. If you expand the patio, you’ll add extra outdoor living space for you and your family.

Native Plants

Choose only drought-tolerant, native plants. They’re accustomed to Denver’s semi-arid climate and will thrive in this area’s clay or rocky/sandy soils. Native plants need less water, fertilizer, and maintenance than invasive species, so they’ll save you time and money. Plants such as swamp milkweed and the Rocky Mountain bee plant also provide a welcoming habitat for wildlife, birds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

Low-Maintenance Turf

Consider replacing your Kentucky bluegrass turf with alternatives that don’t need as much water. Kentucky bluegrass is the most popular turf type along Colorado’s Front Range. It works well if you have kids (or adults!) and pets who like to play on the lawn. But it’s thirsty turf and needs regular watering and mowing. Buffalo grass, tall fescues, or fine fescues are a lot easier to care for.    Not ready to say goodbye to all your Kentucky Bluegrass? Try having less of it, and keeping it in high-traffic areas that see a lot of wear and tear. Replace it in lower-use areas with lower-maintenance shrubs, grasses, or ground cover.

Native Grasses

Blue grama, Colorado's state grass.
Blue grama, Colorado’s state grass. Credit: Wikimedia, CC by SA 3.0.

Adding ornamental grasses to your landscape offers many beautiful benefits. They’re adaptable, low-maintenance, and can grow in poor soil. They add layers of interest with their different heights, colors, and textures. This is especially true in the fall and winter when their foliage and grass seed heads appear in their full glory. Use taller varieties along fences or borders to add height to your landscape. Two types of grasses do particularly well in the Denver area because they’re natives. One of them is blue grama grass, which is also Colorado’s official state grass. This prairie grass has a shallow root system and can cover a lot of ground. In an urban landscape, it works well as an ornamental grass or on a larger lot as part of a meadow lawn. Buffalo grass is also native to Colorado. It grows well in heavy clay soil and requires full sun. It’s a warm-season grass that will be green during the growing season (May-October). It works as a turf replacement if you’re looking for a native lawn.

Ground Cover

Next time you have a bare spot in your lawn, try a ground cover rather than reseeding it or laying more sod. The Colorado State University Extension Office recommends “plants that are low growing (generally less than 12 inches) and spread easily.” These plants develop a thick mat of roots and leaves. This stops soil erosion and crowds out weeds. Ground covers also need less water than turf and don’t need mowing, so they work well in areas that are hard to mow or water. This includes steep slopes, west and south-facing areas, or deeply shaded areas in your yard.

You can also grow white clover as a ground cover. It is not drought tolerant, so it will still need watering, but it is a good source of nitrogen for the landscape, and is suited for Denver.

Mulch

Nicely mulched hill landscape
After mulching. Credit: Christina Rutz, CC 2.0.

Like ground cover, mulch is an attractive, low-maintenance landscaping option. It smothers weeds and can help prevent soil erosion. It also helps keep moisture in the soil and protects the roots of your plants from excessive heat. Organic mulch has the added benefit of improving the soil as it decomposes. Bark, wood chips, leaves, and straw or hay are all examples of organic mulch.

Smart Landscape Design

Do yourself a favor and choose plants suited for the areas where you plant them. Group plants with similar light and water requirements together in your yard.   After reading this, hopefully, you’re ready to retire as a semi-professional gardener and let your landscaping do most of the work for you. By using drought-tolerant, native plants in a low maintenance landscape, you’ll spend less time working on your yard and more time enjoying it.

Laura Hatch

Laura Hatch

Laura Hatch is a journalist who spends her free time hiking with her husband and three sons. From Pikes Peak in Colorado to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and McAfee Knob near Roanoke, she’s made it to the summit of the country’s favorites.