Eco-Friendly Landscaping on a Budget

This year, I embarked on a front yard landscaping project. I’ve been wanting to blog about it for a long time, but I never found the time. Then, last week, I had a request for pictures, and I decided to write about the project.

Part I

Converting to Xeriscape

Potable water is the world’s scarcest resource, and I am always conscious of how much I use in daily life, especially in arid Colorado. One of the greatest ares to conserve water is in your landscape.

Front yard before

Front yard before project. Bushes crushed by snow already removed.

My front yard faces south and is mostly lawn, with a section of icky rock mulch and a nasty evergreen ground cover bush that always looked sickly. The yard gets full sun all day, and it requires way too much water to keep green. In fact, the only reason it is green in this picture is because we had a wet spring. Normally, only the area shaded by the maple tree looks healthy.

I’ve wanted to go low water for a long time, but, as creativity is NOT my strong suit, I couldn’t bring myself to create a landscape plan, as required by my husband and my HOA.  Also, I wanted to do this on a budget and as eco-friendly as I could. Thank goodness I found a program to help me out!

The Center for ReSource Conservation runs many conservation programs, one of which is Garden In A Box. For those of you who are not familiar with the program, the Center has landscape artists design a Xeric plot, and consumers have the opportunity to purchase the plants, with professional design, at an amazingly low price. The program is supported by local municipalities, so only residents of certain cities are eligible to participate. Lucky for me, Golden was one of them! Now, I had two pre-designed areas, and I just needed to figure out the rest of my plan.

Design Considerations

As you can see, we have a Photovoltaic array on our roof, which covers about 60-80% of our electricity usage, depending on the season. The other ‘benefit’ of the panels is they shed sheets of snow, which crush everything in a 4 to 6 ft wide path in front of the house. This past winter, the snow mangled a yucca plant, a lilac, and some other bush that has flowers on it, which I never knew what it was.

Part of my landscape plan had to include moving the bushes and yucca, and being careful of plant selection in the path of destruction.

Landscape plan

Landscape plan submitted to HOA. I ended up extending the Xeric garden to the maple tree and through the 'optional' area on the left.

Another priority was incorporate used materials wherever possible, and I was able to reuse some really old stuff.

When we installed a new patio about 8 years ago, we removed the pavers that made up the old patio and stacked them on the side of the house, where they were out of sight, out of mind.  Now, I had a terrific use for them: a pathway that would go through the Snow Crusher Zone and also provide access to the hose on the west side of the house. I made sure there was plenty of clearance between my planned pathway and where I wanted to put my Sunset Garden. I would fill in the snow zone on either side of the path with annuals, or with perennials that would be cut down in the fall.

Although I would love to be turf-free, I decided that removing all of my front lawn was not going to happen. My Sunset Garden and Personal Farmers Market wouldn’t take up enough room, and I had no idea what to do with the rest of the area. So, I kept some turf at the very front of the yard to tackle another year.

Removing Existing Landscape

Armed with my overall design, which featured the Sunset Garden and Personal Farmers Market from CRC, I received approval from my Homeowners Association.  In fact, the comment from my friend on the Architectural Review Committee, upon finding out that I wanted to Xeriscape was, “Good. You have entirely too much grass.”  My sentiments, exactly!

Front yard partial rock removal

This is as far as I got removing rocks. You can see holes for the bushes removed and the nasty bush in the lower left corner.

After about 8 hours of removing rocks, bushes, and irises, I realized this was way too much work! A few minutes on craiglist solved my problem, and two guys showed up to remove the rest of the rock and the nasty bush. Nasty Bush was very nasty, and we needed to pull its three trunks out with a pickup truck and chain. After removing a couple yards of brush, Sean took a trip to the Rooney Road Recyling Center, where our yard waste would be turned into mulch.

Now, only the turf remained. That stuff is a major pain to remove, and then what do you do with it? Fortune continued to smile upon me, because I found out that David Braden of Organic Landscape Design would be creating a permaculture demonstration plot at the Golden Community Garden, and he needed volunteers! I wasn’t sure what permaculture was, nor if it would help me out with my garden, but I wanted to find out.

The first hour of prepping the plot in the community garden, I learned that some of the principles of permaculture include inviting nature in by planting diverse species and not using chemicals to kill off ‘bad’ bugs, which also will kill off ‘good’ bugs and really make your problems worse. In addition, through the use of sheet mulch, you can have a no-till, no-weed, low-water garden that works in harmony with nature. Gee, that sounded nice and all, but then I learned about something that convinced me.

Sheet Mulch


Sheet Mulch Diagram

The book, Gaia’s Garden, is a great resource for anyone interested in permaculture principles, design, and maintenance. It also provides instructions on how to create a bomb proof sheet mulch. You start with a layer of very high nitrogen material: manure. Above that you layer newspaper or cardboard about ½” thick, to act as a weed barrier. This is also a high carbon material, so now you need more nitrogen, which is another layer of manure on top of the paper. Now comes 8 to 12 inches of mulch (I used straw), and another layer of manure or compost. The layering of high nitrogen and high carbon materials allows the mulch to compost in place. On top of it all, you can use a ‘pretty mulch’, such as bark or shredded wood, so that your planting area doesn’t look like a barnyard.

After pondering the sheet mulch, I realized that would put my xeriscape yard a foot higher than my driveway, sidewalk, and lawn. Then, I remembered that it will compost in place – down to no more than ¼ of its original height. I decided I could live with that, especially when I found out that, in the areas where I am getting rid of lawn, I wouldn’t have to dig up the lawn! I could use the lawn as my first high-nitrogen layer and lay the newspaper right on top of my lawn.

That is A LOT of digging and effort I didn’t need to tackle. SOLD!

Now, I just needed to get the materials…

Materials List for Sheet Mulch

landscape materials

Sheet mulch materials: compost, straw, decorative mulch

Newspaper and/or Cardboard – I saved newspaper and cardboard for about a month, and then went around to my neighbors on recycling days and asked if I could have theirs. Some of them even found huge cardboard boxes they hadn’t bothered to bring out of the basement. I ended up with more than enough, and I recycled what I didn’t need.

Manure – Craiglist has postings for manure, but I also knew about a local resource of people who raise alpacas. I went to their home and loaded as much manure as I had the energy to load. I showed up after som

e serious rains to get my manure, and it was wet and heavy. I should have gotten more than I did, but I was tired.

Compost – The sustainability coordinator for the City of Golden informed me that the city would be providing compost to people who purchased a Garden In A Box. When I did the calculations, however, it wouldn’t be nearly enough, so I bought a yard of compost from a local landscape supply company.

Seed Free Mulch – I found an ad on craiglist for straw at $3/bale. This seemed like a good price to me, as the local feed store sold it at $6/bale. Delivery was included.

Decorative Mulch – Every summer, the City of Golden allows citizens to drop off branches for free. In addition, we drop off our Christmas trees in January. These are shredded and turned into mulch, which the city uses for their landscaping and also provides to residents at no charge. It took me a couple trips, but I eventually forked enough mulch into the truck to cover my Xeriscape garden.

Now that all the materials for my pathway and sheet mulching were on site, it was time to begin the REAL work!

That’s it for Part I. Part II will cover laying the sheet mulch, planting, and ‘after’ pictures.

Below are more ‘before’ pictures.

Personal Farmers Market

Personal Farmers Market Plan

Sunset Garden

Sunset Garden Landscape Plan

Nasty Bush

This is Nasty Bush

Rock Mulch and Irises

Rock mulch needing removal and irises to save

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  1. November 10th, 2010
  2. January 23rd, 2011
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