Sunday, August 21, 2011

Water Saving Tips for Dry Climate Landscaping

- Use drought tolerant plants where summers are dry. Native plants are often an option however by careful - some plants even native to drought climates may not always be drought tolerant if they are found in the wild only along moist floodplain habitats. Non native plants from similar climates may also be used ( ex. southwestern Australia, Rome IT and Santiago CH have climates similar to Los Angeles CA.

- Install plants that need abundant water closest to the house where they
are easily watered, with xeric plants further out.

- Install landscape plants on a soil prepared at least to a foot deep with organic matter which works as a sponge absorbing and retaining moisture. A soil that is too shallow with hard pan clay or rock beneath will block downward penetration of roots making plants more drought tolerant. Soil used for lawns should also be tilled to 6 inches deep and mixed with topsoil or organic matter - lawns on topsoil that is too shallow will be a persistent yearly problem during dry summer weather and will require more water.

- Either forego lawns using xeric plants and stone mulch or use a drought tolerant grass such as Buffalo Grass or regionally adapted groundcover. Let lawns grow taller ( at least 3 inches ) during hot dry weather to cool and shade the soil - lawns cut too short will also be invaded and strangled by crabgrass which loves hot sunny weather. If you have a Fescue or Bluegrass lawn - apply a one time application of Milky Spore to protect the roots from grubs and do NOT use a high nitrogen fertilizer during hot or dry summer weather which can burn the plant.
Statistically...in the west 60 % of water consumed is used on lawns, in the east where there is more natural rainfall, that number is still far too high at 30 %.
There is enough lawns in the U.S. to fill the entire state of Nebraska.

- Use a mulch at a depth of 2 to 3 inches deep to cool and shade the soil, prevent soil temperature fluctuations, preserve moisture and prevent weeds. In dry climates a stone mulch is preferable as it does not need to be replaced yearly and is not flammable. Plants that are mulched almost always grow faster than if they were not mulched. During the summer, organic mulch can reduce the surface soil temperature by up to 6 degrees, and raise it slightly at night. Also, while bare soil can loose up to 3/4 of rainfall to run off and evaporation during summer, mulched surfaces will retain most of that.

- Use rain barrels to capture rainfall runoff from the roof. Run off from contrete and blacktop areas can be directed into landscape beds ( road salt run off during winter may be a problem making this a bad idea in some areas ).
-Water established plants deeply but not too frequently to encourage a deep drought resistant root system. Plants watered too frequently will often become more shallow rooted and prone to damage if the water suddenly stops ( and of course most watering bans occur during severe drought ).

- Do NOT use high nitrogen fertilizer on plants suffering from drought.

- Use drought tolerant, fast growing trees to shade and cool the landscape, especially along south facing walls ( ex. Mesquite in the desert southwest, many species of Oak or southern Pine in the southeast ). Do NOT use trees with greedy roots such as Poplar, Willow and Maple if you plan to grow ornamental plants beneath.

- If there is a watering ban and some plants can't be watered, it may be better to cut them back rather than let them wilt or sustain severe damage or death - this especially applies to perennials where it is better to loose the flowers and a few leaves than the entire plant.

- Water new plants well for the first 2 years until they are well established. Early fall planting is recommended in mild climates so that the roots can settle in and the plant can become somewhat established before severe heat and drought arrives the following summer. Dust bonemeal in the planting hole at planting time to encourage root growth - ( exception is Proteaceae family plants native to Australia which absolutely hate bonemeal ). Caution: marginally hardy perennials and some broadleaf evergreens are better planted during spring but early enough that they do not immediately get hit with hot weather.

- Water plants well before first hard freeze if there is a drought or the plants are growing where natural rainfall may be blocked such as against a wall or under a overhang. Broadleaf evergreens that do not soak up enough water before ground freeze may be dead by the time spring comes, especially if on a site with frequent cold and drying winds. It is also recommended to wrap broadleaf evergreens planted on windy sites with burlap during the first winter.

- Make a saucer around young plants ( especially on slopes ) that you can fill up with water twice during a watering to ensure the plant actually does get the needed amount of water. Remove the saucer during periods of wet weather of you may instead be encouraging root rot.

- Install new plants at the correct depth, which is usually equal to the depth as they were in the pot. I have personally seen landscapers install plants 2 or 3 inches above ground so that the mulch is level - this is a horrible idea and will likely cost any landscaper that does this abundant money in replacing dead plants.

- Trees on stilts WTF?! When I see this I usually think the landscaper or homeowner was too lazy to dig a hole to the correct depth. They tree will also require more water if it even survives the first summer.

- If you can think of any additional water saving tips - leave your comment beneath.

Dry Is Beautiful!

* photo of unknown internet source

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