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Xeriscapes: How a Colorado Springs landscaper saves residents water and work | Business

There might not be leaves on the trees yet, but that hasn’t stopped Jake Harris from thinking about summer.

Harris, owner and operator of Jake’s Designs, a landscaping company in Colorado Springs that focuses on sustainability, is ramping up hiring as warmer months approach and homeowners start landscaping and revamping their yards to conserve water amid drought conditions.

“We’re hiring pretty strong right now,” Harris said. “We never really shut down, we still install a lot of hardscapes and we’re still able to install a lot of things over the winter time. But, obviously, summertime is our biggest boom.”

Harris has 17 workers but plans to reach 25 employees at the peak of the season. His business finishes 60 to 70 jobs each year. Every project his company completes incorporates xeriscape or waterwise principles, which is landscaping that requires low water while capitalizing on a diverse mix of colors and textures, from rock and mulch, to well-adapted plants and trees.

Harris said water wise landscaping was relevant since the early days of his business when he began it in 2000 as his senior project for his landscape-architecture degree at Colorado State University.

Through the years, Harris has tried to educate customers about waterwise landscaping and how to best incorporate high water turf grass into spaces where residents will use it most.

“A sod lawn is superhard to maintain. You got to fertilize it, you got to mow it, you got to water it, you got to do all these things,” Harris said. “Does a little bit of sod look nice out front? Yeah, it can tie a lot of things together, but let’s keep that minimal.”

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Waterwise landscaping has become highly encouraged by Colorado Springs Utilities as 35% of the water provided to the community is used on landscapes, said Catherine Moravec, a senior conservation specialist for Utilities.

Much of El Paso County is experiencing moderate drought while other areas have abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

“A Kentucky bluegrass lawn might require, say, 24 inches of irrigation water a year, and then a waterwise landscape might be a third of that,” Moravec said.

“A typical turf 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 really beautiful in our climate,” she added.

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

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

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

“The more that we can encourage our community to be proactive and transition to waterwise landscaping,” Moravec said, “the more our community will benefit.” 

Colorado Springs reservoirs, which primarily draw on the Colorado River, are at 71% of storage, a bit below the 72%-73% they had at this time last year, said Jennifer Jordan, public affairs specialist for Utilities.

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The city does not anticipate implementing water restrictions this summer but encourages residents to follow waterwise rules such as watering up to three days a week, watering during cooler hours of the day, and reducing runoff into gutters and onto sidewalks.

But the cost of xeriscaping a yard or converting it to be waterwise isn’t always cheap.

Harris said his landscape work can cost 10% to 15% of a property’s value. That’s why phasing in projects over time can be the most cost-efficient.

“Eliminate sod areas and turn those into planting bed areas,” Harris said. “It’s very easy to go in and convert an existing sprinkler zone that is for the yard … and convert that to a zone of drip irrigation. So, I think that’s probably going to give you the most bang for your buck.”

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Utilities also offers programs for residents and businesses to make over grass areas and save some money while they do it.

Starting April 8, Utilities’ residential users can participate in Turf Replacement Program Classes. If residents attend two classes and remove their turf grass, they will be eligible to receive free high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles and turf grass seeds up to a $200 value.

Residents must register online by April 6, and space is limited.

Businesses that tear out turf grass can receive 50 cents for every square foot of turf removed.

It can take businesses up to a year to plan and implement the landscaping changes, and businesses must submit planning documents to Utilities to receive the rebate, Moravec said.

Old North End resident Sumer Liebold used Jake’s Designs to tear out her backyard grass and convert the area into an outdoor paradise with planting beds, pavers, a patio and a fire pit.

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

“It’s been a huge improvement for us to open all the doors and it’s an indoor-outdoor space that we’re just so lucky with Colorado weather we can use,” Liebold said.

Helping customers like Liebold build an outdoor area that is not only enjoyable but uses less water is exactly what Harris’ business aims to do.

“I’m a dad,” Harris said. “So, I think of the next generation all the time. At the end of the day, I think it’s of super-high importance, not only conserving water but recycling and leaving this planet better than we found it.”

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