Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lush Yards with Less Water

April 2007 * Greentips

About one-third of all residential water use goes toward lawns and gardens, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately, much of this water is wasted through runoff, evaporation, overwatering, or inefficient landscape design.

Reducing water use in your yard does not mean resorting to rock gardens—by adopting some simple landscaping techniques known as “xeriscaping” (from the Greek xeros, meaning dry) you can create a beautiful lawn or garden that uses up to 60 percent less water, requires less fertilizer and pesticides, and saves you time and money.

Planning and Design

A single yard can often have a variety of terrain and exposure to sunlight, which translates into different water needs in different areas. Consult your local nursery to find plants that can thrive in each of these areas with as little supplemental watering (i.e., what you need to provide in addition to rainfall) as possible. In most cases, native, non-invasive plants are best because they are naturally adapted to regional temperature and rainfall patterns. Grouping plants that have similar water needs can also help minimize the need for supplemental watering.

Soil

Ideally the soil in your yard should store water yet drain quickly, reducing the need for supplemental watering while promoting healthy plants with deep roots. Adding organic material such as compost to your soil can help improve its quality.

Grass

If there are areas of your lawn that go unused, consider replacing the grass with less water-intensive plants such as trees, shrubs, flowers, or low-growing ground covers. For the rest of the lawn, spread drought-resistant varieties of grass seed and allow the grass to grow higher in the summer (so the grass blades provide shade for the soil).

Mulch

Mulching around plants with coarse compost, wood chips, shredded leaves, or straw further reduces the need for supplemental watering by keeping the soil cool and moist. It also prevents erosion, blocks competing weeds, and provides the soil with nutrients. Mulch should be no more than a few inches deep, and will need to be replenished periodically as the old mulch breaks down.

Supplemental Watering

When you do need to supplement the water your yard already receives in the form of rain, infrequent but deep watering is best because it promotes deeper roots, making plants more drought-resistant. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems are ideal for delivering water slowly and directly to the roots of the plant—unlike typical oscillating sprinklers that waste water through both evaporation and runoff.

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