Drought affecting local landscapers | VailDaily.com

Drought affecting local landscapers

Scott N. Millersmiller@vaildaily.com

VAIL – If you put together a list of businesses that could have a tricky summer due to the state’s drought, local landscaping companies would be near the top of the list.A group of representatives of those businesses – members of the local chapter of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado – gathered Friday at Donovan Pavilion for updates about topics including this summer’s water supply prospects and drought-tolerant plants.When Mike Earl, of Land Designs by Ellison, was putting the May meeting together in February, Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, told him she didn’t really want to talk about drought just yet.After Colorado’s driest March on record, it was time to talk about water supplies, Johnson said.The people gathered at Donovan Pavilion that day are responsible for maintaining and irrigating a big part of the landscaping from Cordillera east, from second homes to condo complexes.Todd Fessenden, the district’s operations manager, said that for now, the standard outdoor watering regulations are in effect – people water every other day except Monday based on their street addresses.If the district declares a “supply emergency” though, virtually all outdoor watering will be banned, whether in specific areas or across the entire eastern part of the valley.No one wants to see that happen. Sarah Fleury, the district’s water conservation officer, told the group she can help landscapers make more efficient use of their clients’ outdoor water because the district will track customers’ water use every week this summer.Some of that more-efficient water use could include the use of drought-resistant plants. That’s where Pat Hayward’s presentation could prove useful.Hayward is the director of Plant Select, a joint project between Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens. That project experiments with plants from different areas and, working with different gardens across the Mountain time zone, sees how they work. The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens participates in the Plant Select program.Hayward had a list of plants that work well at both high elevations and in dry conditions, including a handful of true survivors. Plants including the Russian hawthorn and Cheyenne mock orange were first planted at a biological research station in Cheyenne, Wyo. That station was shuttered in 1979, and those plants continue to thrive there, Hayward said.Other plants Plant Select investigates can be surprising.For instance, Hayward said the orange carpet, a flowering plant, is one of those surprises.”It shouldn’t work in Vail, but it does,” she said.The chance to learn about drought-resistant plants was part of the reason Gypsum Assistant Public Works Director Jeff Kingston came to the meeting. The town and Eagle Valley High School are going to start using the school’s greenhouse to grow plants, Kingston said, and Hayward’s presentation was a good chance to get some new ideas.But should anyone plant anything new this year?The answer depends on timing.”We’re trying to scale back,” Earl said. “But if you tend to a plant correctly, it should be fine.”Some of the perennial plants Hayward described could work very well, he added.But those who want to plant something new should probably act quickly.The upper valley’s outdoor watering regulations are in place now, although customers can pay for permits that allow daily watering of new landscaping. Kingston said Gypsum has voluntary restrictions in place now, and is likely to impose mandatory restrictions in the coming weeks.”Get that sod in now,” Johnson said. “At the end of June, it just won’t work.”