Spring is in the air, and across the country, gardeners and landscapers are starting to make plans for the growing season. Although it's nice to feel the sun's warm rays after a few months of cold weather, experts say Winter was far too warm and dry this year. This means even more water will be required to enjoy a green lawn and garden, something that's often out of the question for areas where water is limited during the summer months.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that nationally, lawncare and landscaping accounts for more than 30 percent of water use in the UnitedStates .The good news is, it's possible to provide all the hydration your yard needs, without increasing consumption of municipal water supplies. Your yard is actually capable of conserving water all on its own, it just takes a little planning, and the implementation of some key practices.
Did you know that simply adding mulch to planter beds and around young trees can help retain soil moisture as well as discouraging weeds and pests? Adding a 2 inch layer of groundcover mulch lowers the soil temperature and prevents water from evaporating too quickly. Because the soil will stay wetter longer, you won't have to water as much. This protective barrier can be made up of a variety of organic materials including bark or wood chips (from various tree species), pine needles, straw, and even cocoa bean shells.
SET UP RAIN CATCHMENT SYSTEM
Rain, Rain, Come Again. In the Pacific Northwest, rain is a part of daily life. Rain provides natural hydration for plants and flowers, but with so much cement and pavement, most of it washes right down the gutter. Setting up a rain catchment system is an easy way to save some of this free water for use on a day when the sun is shining. You can buy or make a rain barrel. If you have a lot of plants to care for, consider linking several together to increase your storage capacity. King County offers easy directionsforbuildinganinexpensiverainbarrel on your own.
It should come as no surprise that a region's native plants would be the best suited to the climate and rain levels of that area. Choosing to fill your yard with local plants will ensure that you have greenery to enjoy all season, without spending a lot of time or money watering. Each region of the United States has certain plants known for their low water use. In the Pacific Northwest, these include the Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), and Oregon white oak (Quercus garryanna). Always check with your local State extension service when selecting plants to avoid the potential of introducing invasive species.
According to the USDA, trickle and drip irrigation systems are the most conservative watering methods. With these methods, very small amounts of water are supplied to the base of the plants. Since the water is applied directly to the soil, rather than onto the plant, evaporation from leaf surfaces is reduced. Of course, these methods aren't an option for everyone. If you're still using the traditional hose and sprinkler method, be sure to water only when the first three to four inches of soil below the turfgrass feels dry. If you can easily flatten the grass with your foot, you should water it. If the grass regains its form quickly after you step on it, wait to water. The goal for most yard should be to add an inch of water each week. You can monitor the depth of water added by placing a shallow dish in your yard before the sprinklers come on. When there's an inch of water in the dish, it's time to turn them off. Watering should only happening in the early morning or evening, when evaporation rates are lower.
BethBuczynski is an environmental writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. Follow her on Twitter as @ecosphericblog.
Photo Credit: By jcheng