Master Gardener: Gardening in a drought year |

Master Gardener: Gardening in a drought year

Andy Kennedy
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

In a drought year like this, it is important to maintain and even increase our water-saving gardening practices.

For your soil, help your plants maintain their current growth without need for excess water by using natural amendments like compost and biochar. These amendments will retain the moisture within the soil. Mulching also reduces water loss through evaporation.

Check your watering systems for leaks in pipes, valves, sprinkler heads and hoses. Replace older irrigation systems with drip watering where possible, and install rainwater monitoring equipment so when it rains, your watering system shuts off. Observe our local watering restrictions by watering only on your days and between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

When it comes to plant selection, choose xeric and native plants that require little water once established. Consider planting decorative native grasses and remember fall planting will require less irrigation for establishment.

Proper pruning of shrubs and trees can lower water demand. Dormant pruning, however, may stimulate unwanted heavy growth, so be sure to prune in early spring or fall, and remove dead wood.

Andy Kennedy’s comfrey harvest. (Courtesy photo)

Group plants together with the same water, sun and soil needs. Consider removing high water use plants and encourage high priority plants such as trees, which provide shade and reduce water needs for other plants. Keep your beds weed-free.

Install a rain garden if you have excess run off — use a depressed area in the landscape to collect rain water from a roof, driveway or street, and let it soak into the ground. Or direct the water to your garden.

Lawns can use a lot of water, so reduce their size by installing pathways (use permeable hardscape), patios or xeriscaped gardens. Other water reducing ideas include reseeding with drought tolerant grass, increasing mowing height to 3 inches to keep soil temps cooler and reduce evaporation, or, when possible, letting the grass go dormant in late summer. Most lawns can survive on 25% to 50% less irrigation.

With the passage of House Bill 16-1005, Coloradans may now capture rainwater with a rain barrel or gutter system and reuse this on outdoor lawns, plants or gardens.

Last, check your trees, shrubs and plants regularly for drought stress — wilting, drooping or brown leaves, insect infestations and the like — and take steps to prevent loss.

For more information on water-saving practices, the CSU website has a wealth of information. See

Andy Kennedy has been a master gardener with Routt County since 2015 and has lived in Routt County since 1998. Her garden focuses on food and native plants, and she loves foraging in the woods for native delicacies like glacier lilies. Andy has worked for the both the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Yampatika and is passionate about sustainability and the local environment, as well as herbalism and the general magic of plants.

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