Xeriscapes: How a Colorado Springs Landscaper Saves Residents Water and Labor | Business


The trees may not have leaves yet, but that hasn’t stopped Jake Harris from thinking about summer.

Harris, owner-operator of Jake’s Designs, a Colorado Springs landscaping company focused on sustainability, is increasing the workforce as the warmer months approach and homeowners begin landscaping and transforming their gardens to conserve water amid drought conditions .

“We’re hiring quite a lot right now,” Harris said. “We’ve never really shut down, we’re still installing a lot of hardscapes, and we can still install a lot of things over the winter period. But of course summertime is our biggest boom.”

Harris has a staff of 17 but plans to hit 25 staff by the peak of the season. His company cuts 60 to 70 jobs every year. Every project his company completes incorporates Xeriscape or Waterwise principles, that is, landscaping that requires little water while benefiting from a diverse mix of colors and textures, from rocks and mulch to well-adapted plants and trees.

Harris said water landscaping has been relevant to his business since the early days, when he began it in 2000 as his senior project for his Colorado State University landscape architecture degree.

Over the years, Harris has sought to educate clients about in-water landscaping and how best to incorporate flood turf in areas where residents will use it most.

“A sod lawn is super difficult to maintain. You have to fertilize it, you have to mow it, you have to water it, you have to do all those things,” Harris said. “Does some grass look good outside? Yes, it can tie many things together, but let’s keep that to a minimum.”

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Water-wise landscaping is strongly encouraged by Colorado Springs Utilities because 35% of the water provided to the community is used for landscaping, said Catherine Moravec, a senior conservation specialist for utilities.

Much of El Paso County is experiencing a moderate drought, while other areas are experiencing unusually dry conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor.

“A bluegrass lawn in Kentucky, for example, requires 24 inches of irrigation water per year, and a waterscape could use a third of that,” Moravec said.

“A typical lawn grass would be watered three days a week, and native grasses can be watered maybe once a week or even once a month and still look very nice in our climate,” she added.

The city attempts to provide water and energy conservation information at the Conservation & Environmental Center at 2855 Mesa Road.

At the center, conservation specialists can answer questions about landscaping, the region’s semi-arid climate, best irrigation practices, and smart tips for irrigation systems.

The center also features demonstration gardens that show how to build landscapes that prioritize wise water use, reduced maintenance, and well-adapted plants.

“The more we can encourage our community to be proactive and move toward water-centric landscaping,” Moravec said, “the more our community will benefit.”

Colorado Springs reservoirs, which draw mostly from the Colorado River, have 71% of the storage capacity, slightly down from the 72% to 73% they had at this time last year, said Jennifer Jordan, a public affairs specialist at utilities.

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The city doesn’t expect to implement water restrictions this summer, but encourages residents to follow water-related rules, such as staying clean. Examples include watering up to three days a week, watering during the cooler hours of the day, and reducing runoff down gutters and onto sidewalks.

But the cost of xeriscaping a shipyard or converting it to a wateryard doesn’t always come cheap.

Harris said his landscaping work can cost 10% to 15% of a property’s value. For this reason, it may be most cost-effective to increment projects over time.

“Get rid of lawns and turn them into planting beds,” Harris said. “It’s very easy to convert an existing yard irrigation zone… and convert it to a drip irrigation zone. So, I think this will probably give you the best bang for your buck.”

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Utilities also offers programs for residents and businesses to redesign grass areas and save money in the process.

Beginning April 8, utility company home users will be able to take courses in the lawn replacement program. If residents attend two classes and remove their lawn grass, they are eligible for up to $200 in free high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles and lawn seed.

Residents have until April 6 to register online, and space is limited.

Companies that uproot peat can receive 50 cents for each square foot of peat removed.

It can take companies up to a year to plan and implement the landscape changes, and companies must submit planning documents to the utilities to receive the rebate, Moravec said.

Veteran North End resident Sumer Liebold used Jake’s designs to uproot the grass in her backyard and transform the area into an outdoor paradise complete with plant beds, pavers, a patio and a fire pit.

Now Liebold, her husband and three children have a usable outdoor area.

“It was a huge improvement for us to have all the doors open, and it’s an indoor-outdoor space that we’re lucky enough to be able to use with the Colorado weather,” Liebold said.

Helping clients like Liebold build an outdoor space that’s not only fun but uses less water is exactly the goal of Harris’ business.

“I’m a dad,” Harris said. “So I think about the next generation all the time. At the end of the day, I think it is extremely important not only to conserve water, but also to recycle and leave this planet better than we found it.”

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