As Rabbitbrush and rocks replace water-thirsty lawns, the persistent drought in the Pikes Peak region is providing an economic boom for landscaping companies that sell low-water plants, rocks and other materials for xeriscaping.
Watering restrictions and the increased cost of overwatering in Colorado Springs, coupled with wildfire fears in the area, have compelled more homeowners and commercial builders to abandon traditional lawns in favor of yards that need little to no watering.
At C&C Sand and Stone, which sells gravel, sand, soils, brick and other decorative landscaping items, the drought has helped push xeriscape sales to record highs.
"Overall, we are seeing upwards of a 50 percent increase in xeriscape business compared to the same period last year," said Bryan Parise, operations manager.
Some homeowners are even switching to artificial turf, Parise said. C&C Sand once ordered artificial turf on a "per order basis," he said. This month, the company sold more than 2,000 square feet of faux lawn in a week.
Phelan Gardens manager Eileen Lagrassa said several of her customers have cited wildfire concerns as the reason they've moved to xeriscaping. But they're also cognizant of watering restrictions and the severe drought.
"They want to do it to their yards to conserve water," she said.
Lagrassa said her customers continue to plant flowers, bushes and shrubs, but not ones that require large amounts of water.
"They are buying xeriscape perennials that come back every year and can tolerate drought conditions once established," she said.
The changes in landscaping in a semi-arid climate is nothing new to those in the business.
"I experienced this in 2002 when we had the last drought, and we are seeing a lot of the same trends we saw then," Parise said.
Craig Giesbrecht, operations manager for Green Belt Turf Farm, also said he's seeing a replay of the drought from 2002 to 2004, when hundreds of Springs residents turned to xeriscape to save water.
"Then five years later, they were taking it out and putting grass back in," Giesbrecht said.
Giesbrecht said his company's sod sales have fallen within the city limits, but the decline has been mostly offset by increased sales to areas outside Colorado Springs that have not imposed watering restrictions.
"The vast majority of new construction is happening outside the city, and the growth in outlying areas is coming close to offsetting the lack of turf demand in water-restriction areas," he said.
Sections of eastern Colorado are in an "extreme" or "exceptional" drought condition, according to droughtmonitor. unl.edu. Colorado Springs falls just outside those areas but is still in a dire enough situation to require watering restrictions.
Last month, Colorado Springs Utility reported the city's water "system-wide storage is at a near historical low of 48 percent; normal storage is 65 percent."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275