Water-Conservation Tips for a Difficult Time 1HLO 6SHUU 1HLO 6SHUU¶V *$5(16 0DJD]LQH W e never know how long a drought will last, and we never know when the next one is going to start. Water conservation is everyone’s responsibility, and to that end, I’ve prepared a list of water-saving tips (along with some related good gardening practices). Other specialists in related industries will be joining us, so that you will soon see a united coalition of industry leaders trying to protect landscapes and gardens while, at the same time, conserving every possible drop of valuable water.6SULQNOHU 6VWHPV • Heads, plants, exposure and soils vary within• Work with a licensed irrigation contractor for the same landscape. Adjust your system so thatall new installations, as well as repairs to existing all stations will dry out at approximately the samesystems. rate. This will require periodic changes in the time settings. It is quite likely that each station will run• It’s best to water deeply, then let the soil dry be- for a different length of time in order to water tofore watering again. That encourages deeper, better the same depth.root development on all plants. • Watering frequency will vary greatly from sea-• Learn to recognize signs of dry plants (subtle son-to-season. It is very likely, for example, thatchanges in color, wilting, folding or rolling of you may not have to run sprinklers at all duringleaves). Wait until you see those symptoms before normal winters. Do not leave sprinkler timersallowing sprinklers to run. We Texans have his- set on regular intervals (“every day,” “every twotorically overwatered our landscapes and lawns. days,” etc.). It would be better to leave them in the “Manual” mode, so that you can determine when• Your licensed irrigator may suggest bubblers, they need to run.low-angle and other water-conserving options.New concepts in water conservation are being • If a station appears to have very low water pres-developed constantly, and you may want to retrofit sure, it is likely that there is a broken pipe or headyour old system to include them. that is allowing most of the water to leak. Check all of the heads on that station, and make any• “Smart” controllers do conserve a significant per- necessary repairs.centage of water used in irrigating landscapes andlawns – if they are installed by a licensed irrigation • Sprinkler heads that are not spraying evenly maycontractor, if their operation is explained to you, be partially or totally clogged. Unscrew the headand if the systems are maintained properly. They and rinse out its filter/strainer. Be sure the head isare definitely worth considering. properly aligned as you reassemble it.• Conduct an irrigation audit. Have someone ad- • Trim grass, shrub or groundcover growth awayvance your system station-by-station as you check from heads that are partially blocked. If necessary,all heads for proper operation. raise the heads by installing short extenders.
Water-Conservation Tips 3DJH • If you find wet spots in your lawn or landscape • Water your lawn in the early morning. Winds aredays after you water, there is probably a valve that lightest then, so coverage will be most uniform.is not closing completely. The leak will be slow, Humidities are higher, so less water will be lostand it will be from the lowest head on the station. to evaporation. Evening waterings have most of(Note: the valve at fault may be at some distance those same benefits, but leaving turf wet overnightfrom the wet spot.) may lead to diseases.7XUI 0DQDJHPHQW /DQGVFDSLQJ• Choose a drought-tolerant type of turfgrass. • Choose water-conscious plants. That doesn’tBermuda and buffalograss are equally drought- necessarily translate into “native” plants. It’s besttolerant. However, bermuda is the more dominant to ask your certified nursery professional for plantsgrass of the two. If bermuda is being grown in, that are adapted to your locale and your specificor is native to, your neighborhood, stick with it. landscaping needs, regardless of where they areYou’ll end up with it eventually anyway. native. Concentrate on plants that are able to withstand periods of drought without excessive• Note that bermuda requires 6 to 8 hours of consumption of water.direct sunlight daily. If you have only 4 to 6 hours,St. Augustine would be your alternative. While St. • Reduce the percentage of your landscaping foot-Augustine does use water more liberally than ber- print that is planted into growing plants by use ofmuda, most people apply much more than it really mulched beds, decorative stones and other hardneeds. If St. Augustine is your only alternative due surfaces. The final look can be just as appealing,to shade, learn to water it prudently. but water consumption can be cut.• Learn to recognize signs of dry turf. Bermuda • Use gray water (from the clothes washer, forwill turn olive-drab in hot, sunny locations. Its example) to irrigate landscape plants wheneverblades will roll. Zoysias react similarly. St. Augus- possible. Rain barrels and cisterns can help by cap-tine will turn to a darker, dull and glossy green turing rainfall, although it may take several/manyshade, and its blades will fold. If you leave “foot- vessels to provide a meaningful supply.prints” in the turfgrass blades as you walk acrossthe lawn, the grass is dry. • Prepare the planting soil carefully, especially for plants that will be comparatively small at matu-• Increasing mowing heights by one notch can rity (annuals, perennials, groundcovers and lowhelp your turf survive dry conditions better. Don’t shrubs). Ask your Texas Certified Nursery Profes-raise the mower too high, however, or you’ll end sional to help you choose the best amendments toup with weaker grass that is more prone to inva- improve your soil, allowing better water penetra-sion by weeds. tion into clays and better moisture retention in sands.• Use labeled herbicides to reduce populationsof water-consuming weeds. Your Texas Certified • Create a water basin around each new plant. ThatNursery Professional can advise you of the best will allow you to soak the plant’s soil by hand-types for your weeds. Some types can be removed watering with a garden hose, since all of the plant’smanually. roots will be in that original soil ball initially.
Water-Conservation Tips 3DJH • Mulch landscape beds with 2 to 3 inches of or- • Established landscape shrubs and groundcoverganic mulch (compost, bark, shredded tree leaves, beds will dry out more quickly than large trees,etc.). Mulches reduce soil-to-air interfaces. They and their cumulative value can be significant.slow runoff, and they moderate rates at which soils However, just a few waterings per summer canheat up in summer. They also retard germination save them. They may not grow vigorously givenand growth of weeds, eliminating water the weeds the reduced watering plan, but they can holdmight consume. their own until better times return. Drip irriga- tion, soaker hoses or bubblers are efficient ways to• Fertilize landscape plants during spring and fall deliver the water to them.of dry years, just to keep them healthy and rea-sonably vigorous. This can be done as you feed • Weeds are notorious wasters of water. Hoe themyour lawn, or you can make separate applications out, apply a suitable herbicide according to labelto landscape beds. Use a quality plant food, with directions, and mulch to discourage them.half or more of its nitrogen in slow-release form.In periods of extreme drought and water curtail- 6LJQV RI 2YHUZDWHULQJments, reduce recommended rates of application Ever lose a plant and wondered if you mightby half. actually have kept it too wet? Probably not. Sure, it does happen occasionally, but not as a norm.• Trees compete with turfgrass and shrubs for Plants that are kept too wet, as well as plants thatavailable water whenever they share the same soil. have stood in wet soil for many days after a rain,If, however, you feel that you need to provide wa- often wilt overall, even though their soil is stillter to large trees, do so with a soaker hose. Most very moist to the touch. It’s best not to water anyof their roots will be in the top foot of soil, so plant that is wilted if its soil is still wet. It wastessoaking surface applications are best. The roots water, and it may be the final blow to the strug-that will be most efficient in taking up the water gling plant.will be near the outer edges of the foliar canopy(drip line). It’s critical that each of us conserve every possible drop of water, whether during droughts or com-• Young trees (less than two or three years in your ing out of rainy weather. We never know when thelandscape) can be watered via soaker bags placed next drought may begin. If we join together, wearound their trunks, or you can leave the retention will be able to enjoy the world’s greatest hobby asbasins in place and fill them as needed. we keep our cities attractive and inviting.• Sprinkler irrigation alone will not be adequate )RU RQJRLQJ WLSV DERXW JDUGHQLQJ DQG ZDWHUfor new landscape plants. Supplement sprinkler FRQVHUYDWLRQ VXEVFULEH WR 1HLO 6SHUU¶V IUHHirrigation by hand-watering their soil balls for the HJDUGHQV QHZVOHWWHU E YLVLWLQJ ZZZQHLOVSHUUfirst year. During water curtailments, hand- FRPwatering alone will keep the new plantings alive.