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Water Conservation in Gardens and Landscapes


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Water Conservation in Gardens and Landscapes

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Water Conservation in Gardens and Landscapes

  1. 1. EM4834 Water Conservation in Gardens and LandscapesPast droughts and threats of droughts in Wash- Strategies to Reduce Water Loss andington have caused concern about survival of Conserve Watergarden and landscape plants. These includemany woody trees and shrubs, vegetables, bulbs, Strategies for conserving and reducing water useand bedding plants. Almost all landscapes in focus on three major areas.western Washington and all landscapes in east- 1. Understanding and monitoring the waterern and central Washington need summer irriga- status in soils and reducing evaporation fromtion every year. Drought cycles will continue. As the soil surface.populations increase and water supplies from 2. Understanding the critical times when plantssome aquifers decrease, more demands will be need water and knowing how to apply waterplaced on present water supplies. The following efficiently.are suggestions for saving water around home 3. Drought cycles will continue to occur. Less andgardens and landscapes. less water will be available for landscape use. Plan future landscapes and home grounds forUnderstanding Water Loss more efficient water use.Water is lost from home gardens and landscapes Soil Preparation for New Plantingsin two different ways. Prepare the soil as deeply as possible. This canWater evaporates from the soil surface. The be accomplished by digging or double digging,evaporation rate increases under hot, dry, low tilling, and on large areas, by subsoiling.humidity or windy conditions. A combination of Subsoiling is breaking up hard soil layers with aany of these conditions increases the evaporation tractor-drawn implement called a chisel. Therate even more. As the soil surface dries, more addition of organic matter will increase thewater from deep in the soil will be drawn to the water holding capacity of the soil, increasingsoil surface, where it also evaporates. Plants also the efficiency of water use. Do not add organicremove water from the soil. Only a small percent- matter to the backfill of individual plantingage is used for the plant. Most of the water is lost holes when planting. Add organic matter to anfrom the leaves by evaporation. entire area, such as a landscape bed, and mix with the soil as deeply as possible. Examples ofSoils vary in their water holding capacity (amount organic matter to use include ground bark,of water available to plants). Sandy, gravelly soils compost, peat moss, well-rotted manure, andhold less water than heavier or clay type soils. leaf mold. New transplants will need frequentTherefore, sandy soils tend to dry faster. Soil acts as irrigations until well established.a water reservoir. The amount of water held in thisreservoir will increase with an increasing depth of When and How Much to Irrigategood soil. Adding organic matter to sandy soilswill increase the water holding capacity of those The easiest way to determine if water has to besoils, making more water available to plants. added to the soil is to feel it. If the soil cannot be COOPERATIVE EXTENSION
  2. 2. rolled into a ball, it is probably too dry. If the soil need limited summer irrigation. In manycan be molded into a ball which crumbles when areas of Washington, these natives may needyou rub it, it is probably just right. If the molded no summer irrigation. Separate water con-soil ball will not crumble when rolled, it is too serving and water demanding plants. Groupwet. Sandy soil generally will not form a ball. plants with similar water needs together. ThisCheck the soil by digging with a shovel. The means you only have to irrigate part of thedepth of adequate wetness can be determined by landscape.feeling the soil. Conserving Soil WaterWatering Landscape and Vegetable Plants Do anything you can to reduce evaporation fromThe secret is to water slowly, deeply, and less the soil surface. Mulching with up to 3 or 4 inchesoften. Frequent shallow waterings encourage of shredded or ground bark, well-rotted compost,plants to develop shallow root systems. These sawdust, wood shavings, wood chips, etc., is anplants suffer first in a drought. Some ways to excellent way to reduce irrigation frequency.conserve water follow. Lawn clippings are also good, but these may mat down and dry out, making rewetting for water1. Use drip or trickle irrigation. This method penetration difficult. wets the soil slowly, allowing for slow, deep penetration. Up to 60% of the irrigation water Avoid using peat moss as a mulch material. Also can be saved using drip vs. conventional avoid black plastic, as it does not allow for water sprinkler irrigation. You can buy components penetration and reduces necessary air exchange to for a drip irrigation system at hardware or the roots. The porous landscape fabrics are suit- garden center stores. A perforated sprinkler able. Avoid rock mulches, as they absorb, store, hose, placed upside down (with holes down) and reradiate heat, usually increasing plant water makes a very good temporary drip irrigation loss. Removal of weeds saves soil water. Shallow system. cultivation not only removes weeds but also2. Water slowly. If water runs off the soil sur- creates a dust mulch (of soil) which may help face, turf area, or over a sidewalk or street, the reduce soil water loss. water is being added too fast and is being wasted. If it forms puddles, it is also being Strategies for Plants added too fast.3. Be sure that water penetrates the soil and 1. Encourage plant roots to grow as deeply as does not run off. Some soils, especially those possible. This is done by deep soil preparation high in organic matter, often are hard to rewet over a large area, and deep, infrequent when they become very dry. Use a commercial waterings. horticultural wetting agent to aid in water penetration. Follow directions on the label. 2. Plants vary in tolerating prolonged drought.4. Irrigate at night or in early morning when the Plants native to the western United States temperatures are cooler and the humidity is have evolved under a situation of dry sum- higher. There will be less evaporation. mers and, therefore, can tolerate drier periods5. Irrigate during a light rainfall to maximize the better than some exotic plants. Once estab- effect of both the rain and the irrigation. lished, these plants probably will not need to6. Collect roof water from down spouts in a pail be irrigated. or barrel for landscape use.7. Plant vegetable plants closer together. Using 3. Cutting back on fertilization might slow shrub this method decreases the amount of water and tree growth, reducing individual plant needed per unit area, and reduces evaporation water use. from the soil surface.8. Use drought tolerant (water conserving) 4. Plants in soft growth in spring and early plants. Most native Pacific Northwest plants summer need more water than in late summer,
  3. 3. fall, and winter, when they are not growing. Consequently, you may reduce watering in late Information on soil moisture monitoring and summer. crop evapotranspiration from Washington’s Public Agricultural Weather Stations (PAWS)5. Most turf areas may not need as much water as and Washington Irrigation Scheduling Expert is commonly applied. Be sure that the water (WISE) are available on the Scientific Irriga- you apply will penetrate and become available tion Scheduling (SIS): web page to the roots. Remove any accumulated thatch at the recommended times in early spring or fall. You also may want to apply a wetting Drought advisories and other Washington agent to aid in penetration of water through State University Cooperative Extension thatch layers. Aeration of turf during summer Bulletins are available online at months also can assist in penetration of water when thatch or soil compaction is a problem. Type “drought” in the search box for downloadable files.For further information, see EB1090, WateringHome Gardens and Landscape Plants, available fromWSU Cooperative Extension offices.By Ray Maleike, Ph.D., Washington State University Cooperative Extension horticulturist, emeritus; Marianne Ophardt, M.S., WSU CooperativeExtension Area Agent, Benton-Franklin counties; and George Pinyuh, M.A., former WSU Cooperative Extension Area Agent, King-Pierce counties.Revised March 2001 by Marianne Ophardt.Issued by Washington State University Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June30, 1914. Cooperative Extension programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination regardingrace, sex, religion, age, color, creed, national or ethnic origin; physical, mental or sensory disability; marital status, sexual orientation, and status asa Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local Cooperative Extension office. Trade names havebeen used to simplify information; no endorsement is intended. Revised March 2001. Subject codes 373 and 255. EM4834