OK, so I was a little drastic in my last post about watering and a follow-up is needed. The point I was trying to get across is that we don't always measure the impact of our actions, and we should be conscious of them. There are drastic consequences if we don't - just do a little research on the impact of the Babylonian irrigation system and on the San Joaquin Valley salinization to see the impact of irrigation without regard to the future. There are also parts of the world where clean water is in scarce supply, threatening the survival of the people living there.
As professional gardeners and landscapers, what are our recommendations and practices?
Minimize the areas that have a high demand for additional watering
Turf grasses are among the most water-intensive plants you can have. By reducing the amount and types of grasses in your yard, you can greatly impact the water requirements of your landscape. Walk through your yard and identify areas that are having a difficult time growing turf grasses and find ways to encorporate those areas into different planting beds.
If you have high traffic areas across your lawn, consider adding a hardscape walkway, instead. Instead of continually trying to repaird those areas, you'll have a much better solution for your yard and your visitors.
Select plants that are best suited to the existing environment
If you have an area that is very sandy and gets a lot of sun, you will definitely have a watering challenge on your hands. Look for deep-rooted, drought-tolerant plants (many of the prairie plants like echinacea, liatris and monarda are great for this application).
Properly planting and mulching to reduce water loss
Starting with smaller plants actually improves your chances of success - they are less stressed when planted and have lower nutrient needs to start with. As they grow and get established and with proper care, they will become quite hardy and drought resistant.
Mulching is not just for decoration. It reduces water and soil splashing up on to the plants, which can cause stress and spread disease. It also helps retain moisture and keep the ground cooler, further reducing the need for supplemental watering. An organic mulch, like shredded bark, also adds nutrients, mimicing the natural breakdown of leaves and plant parts to build up the soil
Take advantage of natural water collection for use in gardens and landscapes
Rain barrels and rain gardens are gaining in popularity, but are not new ideas. Instead of letting the rain water run off your house, driveway and sidewalks, divert and collect at least part of that water for use during dry spells. This accomplishes 2 things - less water is sent through the storm drain systems for purification and you don't need to draw from your water supply for gardening.
Establish guidelines and best practices for supplemental watering
If you do have an irrigation system, it would be preferable to use it manually, instead of on a schedule. Watering your landscape, whether it needs it, or not, is not a good watering practice. Many systems allow you to set even/odd watering, but that means shallow watering, which does not encourage the plants to establish an extensive root system to help them through dry spells. Infrequent, deep watering is the best. Also, make sure you're not watering the street, driveway or sidewalks instead of your plants.
Not sure what to do next?
Keep in mind that you can't switch from old watering practices to new practices overnight, without affecting the health and look of your landscape. But, you can adopt practices and wisely establish a new landscape. leaving behind a better environment for the next generation (your children!). If you would like to take the first step in making your yard more water-friendly, give us a call and we'll be glad to help.