Because water is such a precious resource, we need to do everything we can to conserve it, especially in the landscape and during the summer months. Let us take a look at ten easy tips that will help us do just that.
- Determine what level of irrigation, if any, the landscape will need. Use a majority of plants that will not even need irrigation after taking root. If your landscape will feature plants that have different water needs, group the plants according to their water requirements (very low, low, medium, or high water use), so they are easier to water.
- Always mulch beds after planting. A two to three inch covering of the soil with an organic mulch, such as shredded hardwood, greatly slows the loss of moisture from the soil through evaporation. Mulch also inhibits weed growth, stabilizes the soil temperature, and adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. When applying mulch to beds, avoid piling it up around the stems of plants because the mulch can rot the stems. When applying mulch around trees, pull the mulch two to three inches away from the trunks. Pine bark mulch is popular in most of Texas, but it can easily wash away during a heavy rain. Shredded hardwood and cypress mulch stay in place much better.
- Reduce water consumption in the landscape by reducing the amount of grass. Lawn grasses use more water than any other plant in the landscape. Furthermore, an extensive lawn is a monoculture that contributes little diversity to the plant palette. Replace areas of grass with beds of ground covers, shrubs, and/ or perennials that provide more visual interest while consuming considerably less water.
- Water plants only when they are thirsty! Do not set the irrigation system on automatic, but rather run the irrigation only when plants need to be watered. Most plants show they need water by wilting or turning a pale, grayish-green color. Or, push your finger into the soil to see if it feels dry. Buy a rain gauge to measure how much rain falls on your garden. You can even install a rain sensor on your sprinkler system, which keeps the system from operating while it is raining. Soil moisture sensors measure the moisture content of the soil and turn on your sprinklers only when the soil is dry.
- Create shade in your landscape. Shady areas can be twenty degrees cooler than sunny spots, and plants need much less water in shade than in sun.
- When installing an irrigation system in your beds, choose one that uses water efficiently. Overhead sprinkler irrigation is the least efficient because so much of the water is lost to wind and evaporation. Drip irrigation, on the other hand, places water right where the plants need it, in the root zone. Drip systems use 20 to 70 percent less water than overhead irrigation systems.
- Conserve water by planting in fall rather than in spring. Fall is the best time of the year to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials in Texas because the plants have a chance to establish their root systems for several months before the onslaught of summer’s heat. Plants planted in the fall also take advantage of fall rains and cooler temperatures and, therefore, experience less evapotranspiration.
- Space plants appropriately according to their mature size to reduce competition for water. Overcrowding increases the need for water in a particular area. It also increases the insect and disease pressure in that area.
- Collect rainwater from your roof. Rather than let this water run off your property and into storm sewers, capture it with a rain barrel and use it to irrigate your beds and containers.
- Finally, fertilize correctly. Use slow-release fertilizers that send nutrients slowly to the plant roots rather than fertilizers that release all their nutrients quickly and cause growth spurts. Overfertilization causes plants to get sick or to grow too fast. In both cases, plants use more water than they need.
Now that you have absorbed all of this information about water conservation, put it into practice and let it have a trickle-down effect on others in your neighborhood!
This article is adapted from Steve Huddleston’s book, Easy Gardens for North Central Texas, published by Color Garden Publishing.