Selecting Plants

Click these tips to learn more about selecting water-saving plants for your landscape.

Conservation Gardens Plants & Photos

Download PDF to print all Selecting Plants topics.

Check and Improve Soil

A well-drained soil promotes plant growth and can save water. Two soil types found on Colorado’s Front Range should be amended to improve growing conditions. Many low water-use plants also have low fertility requirements. Avoid over-enriching your soil for low water-use plants.

Clay soils tend to hold moisture tightly, making it difficult for plants to access water when the water in the soil is depleted. Clay soils have a low water infiltration rate, so water must be applied slowly to avoid ponding or runoff.

Clay soils also drain slowly, so it is easy to saturate the soil and damage the lawn. Add organic matter (such as compost) to clay soils to improve drainage, reduce soil compaction, promote a deeper root zone and reduce irrigation frequency.

Sandy soils tend to hold little moisture and drain quickly. Add organic matter to sandy soils to improve moisture retention in the root zone and reduce the amount and frequency you need to water. Your local garden center can recommend the compost best suited for your geographic area and soil type.

Developing a Water-Conserving and Drought-Resistant Soil

Soil Preparation-One of the Seven Principles of Efficient Landscape Water Management  

Water-Saving Plants in the Conservation Gardens

The Northern Water Conservation Gardens include plants that will save water without sacrificing a homeowner’s desire for a beautiful garden or landscape. Water-saving plants require less irrigation, reduce costs and may better withstand droughts and watering restrictions. See photos and information about dozens of these plants in the Plants & Photos section.

The Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens’ eight miniature landscapes contain more than 70 low water use plants and materials, from shrubs and small trees to perennials, mulches and rock. Plants and flowers near the Conservation Gardens’ weather station include various groundcovers, drought-hardy perennials and annuals.

You can take a self-guided Cell Phone Audio Tour of the gardens and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project Interpretive Area. The Conservation Gardens Xeriscape Plant List also identifies the gardens’ many plant species.

In the Conservation Gardens illustration on this page, roll your cursor over Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens and the Weather Station Area to learn more.
For detailed information about xeriscaping and Northern Water’s Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens, see the  Xeriscape Irrigation Recommendations.

Group Plants With Similar Water Needs Together

Group and install plants with similar water requirements together. If plants with different water needs are planted near each other, some plants may be overwatered while others receive too little. 

You can optimize plant health and save water by collectively grouping plants with similar water requirements. This will simplify sprinkler system design, controller programming and conserve water.

Visit the Using Less Water page for more information on sprinklers and irrigation systems.

Match Plant Needs and Climate to Reduce Water Use

Many non-native plants growing in arid climates need more water than natural rainfall provides. In Colorado’s semiarid climate it may be difficult to grow some landscape plants without irrigation.

Plants that are native to arid and semiarid climates are well matched to Colorado’s Front Range growing conditions. They should require infrequent supplemental irrigation once established. Low and very low water use landscapes require half (or less) the water that turfgrass does.

Visit the Native Plant Display in Northern Water’s Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens to see how native plants can reduce water use and create attractive landscapes.

These shrubs and plants include: gambrel oak, waxflower, Boulder raspberry, big bluestem grass, prairie winecups, gayfeather, black eyed Susan, native lavender bee balm and Rocky Mountain columbine.

In the Conservation Gardens illustration on this page, roll your cursor over Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens and the Weather Station Area to learn more.

For detailed information about xeriscaping and Northern Water’s Xeriscape Demonstration Gardens, see the  Xeriscape Irrigation Recommendations.

Find More Information

See these websites for more information on growing water-saving plants.
Plant Select
Plant Select® is a cooperative effort by Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado State University, horticulturists and nurseries to identify and distribute the best plants for high plains and intermountain landscapes and gardens. Many Plant Select varieties are in the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water.

Waterwise Xeriscape Landscaping (City of Fort Collins) 
Design a Xeriscape garden and choose plants using the seven Xeriscape principles, Xeriscape resources, a Xeriscape design booklet and other resources.

High-Altitude Gardener Plant Database (Denver Botanic Gardens) 
Search hundreds of plants using the Denver Botanic Gardens’ searchable database. 

Xeriscape Links (Colorado Waterwise) 
Link to these Xeriscape sites from Greeley, Fort Collins and other cities.

Xeriscaping: Perennial and Annual Flowers (Colorado State University Extension) 
Learn the basics of growing Xeriscape flowers and see a list of different varieties.

Xeriscape Plaza Plant List
The plants in the Xeriscape Plaza in the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water are identified by scientific and common name.

Conservation Gardens at Northern Water brochure

Roll your cursor over the sections of the Conservation Gardens at Northern Water illustration below to learn more.

Garden map

Native GrassesIrrigation Technology DemonstrationSmall Grass LysimetersComparative Irrigation TechniquesSoil Preparation StudyLine Source IrrigationBluegrass ReviewWeather Station AreaAlternative Grass MixesTall Fescue ReviewSoil Preparation StudyXeriscape Demonstration GardensSoil Revitalization DemonstrationSprinkler System Test Pad