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80 little things and one great big thing you can do to save water in the garden.

After four dry years, many gardeners in the West--particularly Californians who get their water from Coast Range reservoirs--are facing another summer of limited water supplies. Here we list 80 small ways and one big way (see THE GREAT BIG THING: Getting rid of unused lawn) to save water in the garden. For even more strategies and landscaping ideas, consult the Sunset book on Waterwise Gardening (Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, Calif., 1989; $6.95). In areas to severest restrictions, you may have to avoid planting altogether this year--or limit yourself to a few pots of color or a few tomato plants. Even if that's the case, you can use the interval to rethink your landscape, developing a long-range garden plan that incorporates lessons learned during these dry years.

THROUGHOUT THE GARDEN

1. Do landscape planting in fall (in snowy-winter climates, do it in early September). Choose plants suited to semiarid conditions. If your community has landscape guidelines, follow them. 2. Improve soil structure. Before planting annuals and vegetables, work in generous amounts of organic matter. 3. Get rid of weeds. Pull or hoe them so they won't compete with ornamentals for the limited water. 4. Mulch. Ground bark, compost, or leaf mold keeps soil cooler, reduces evaporation, and discourages weed growth. 5. Collect indoor water in buckets as you wait for it to heat up. Use clear water left over from cooking to water outdoor plants. 6. Water early in the morning or in the evening when the air is still and evaporation is minimal. 7. Protect tender plants, such as

young Japanese maples, from hot sun by covering them with shadecloth. 8. Shield plants from drying wind. Construct temporary windbreaks around especially valuable plants. 9. Sweep driveways, sidewalks, and paths, rather than hosing them off. 10. Control runoff on slopes. Use headers or make basins downslope from plants. 11. Use buckets to hand-water pots and landscape plants wherever possible. 12. Be a good gardener. Observe your plants carefully, dig into the soil to check moisture, and apply water efficiently and only when plants need it. Adjust watering schedules according to the weather.

IRRIGATION

13. Install drip irrigation where possible. 14. Use soaker hoses where drip isn't practical. They're less efficient but inexpensive and easy to use. 15. Automate sprinkler systems. Used properly, electronic or mechanical timers and soil moisture sensors help you water more efficiently. 16. Time watering. If your irrigation system isn't automated, use a kitchen timer to remind you when to turn off drip systems, sprinkles, or hoses. 17. Use hose-end shutoff valves for hand watering. Turn off the water as you move the hose from plant to plant. 18. Repair leaks. Fix leaky faucets or bad hose connections. 19. Clean clogged sprinkler heads. 20. Replace broken sprinkles or risers. 21. Adjust sprinkler so they don't wet sidewalks or driveways. 22. Periodically check drip systems for clogged or broken tubing or emitters.

VEGETABLE PATCH

23. Start plants from seed, if possible. Direct-sown squash, melons, and corn usually develop stronger and deeper root systems. 24. Buy small transplants. Avoid seedlings that are obviously rootbound. 25. Plant in furrow bottoms. Dig furrows 6 to 8 inches deep, then sow or plant on the bottom of the trench, not on the sides or top of the furrow. 26. Build basins around vegetables that need wide spacing--such as squash, melons, and tomatoes. 27. Plant tomato seedlings deep, with just the top two sets of leaves exposed; they'll develop better root systems. 28. Plant closer together. Space plants so foliage will eventually touch; this will shade the soil and discourage weeds. 29. Plant early-ripening varieties, since they'll need fewer irrigations. 30. Shade seedbeds to cut surface drying.

FLOWER BEDS

31.Plant for quick effects. Use blooming plants from 4-inch pots or 1-gallon cans to dress up the garden instantly. 32.Limit plantings of annuals to only the most important display areas. 33.Choose less thirsty varieties. Celosia, cosmos, gaillardia, marigolds, nicotiana, petunias, portulaca, and verbena need less water than any others. 34.Don't waste water on scruffy perennials. If they're old, woody, and blooming poorly, they're probably not worth saving. 35.Inland, plant sun-loving plants in light shade to reduce water loss.

ROSE GARDEN

36. Cut back on watering after spring blooom. Many established rose bushes--especially old shrub and species roses--can get by with surprisingly little water. 37. Mulch heavily, using at least 3 to 4 inches of coarse organic matter. 38. Remove suckers, but do no other pruning until next winter. 39. Let hips develop to suppress plant growth; don't deadhead.

ORNAMENTAL TREES AND SHRUBS

40. Build basins around small ones. Direct water to roots and avoid runoff. 41. Deep-water big trees if soil beneath them is dry 6 to 8 inches down. Use a ring of drip emitters, a soaker hose, a deep root irrigator, or a slow-trickling hose that you shift from spot to spot 42. Wet only the root zone. Water shrubs 1 to 2 feet deep, trees 3 to 4 feet deep. Use a soil probe or dig a small hole to check penetration. 43. Keep grass at least 2 to 3 feet away from trunks of young trees so it doesn't complete for moisture. 44. Use natural mulches. Don't rake fallen leaves or needles from under big trees 45. Do not feed trees or shrubs.

CONTAINER PLANTS

46. Group container plants so they can shade one another. 47. Place container plants in the deepest shade they can tolerate. 48. Repot, mixing water-holding soil polymers into potting soil. 49. Move rootbound plants into larger containers. 50. Remove plants from pots smaller than 6 to 8 inches in diameter; repot them in larger pots--or cluster 2 or 3 of them into one big pot. 52. Use water-retentive pots. Light-colored plastic, sealed redwood, and glazed clay are best for slowing evaporation. 53. Choose light-colored pots; they don't absorb as much of the sun's heat. 54. Double-pot. Set small pots inside larger ones, with a layer of sand or gravel in between. 55. Use saucers to reclaim water. Catch excess water from each irrigation; suck it up with a turkey baster to water other containers. 56. Top-dress. Put cobbles, bark, or rough compost over pots' soil surfaces. 57. Bury pots. Set pots in the ground up to their rims. 58. Water gently and carefully. Don't aim strong jets of water at the soil. And don't just spray the foliage. 59. Place pots beneath taller landscape plants; that way, runoff from pots will water the larger plants. 60. Forget hanging baskets this year; they dry out too quickly.

FRUITS

61. Shade strawberries. Prop row covers or shadecloth over beds. Be sure to allow good ventilation. 62. Renovate strawberry beds. After harvest, withhold water from most of the plants, but continue watering a few to divide and replant in fall or winter. 63. Space citrus waterings four to six weeks apart. Water plants to a depth of 18 to 24 inches. This season's fruit may suffer, but trees should survive. 64. Water cane berries sparingly after harvest. In coastal climates especially, established blackberry plants can get through the summer on no water, raspberry plants on very little 65. Remove grass growing next to fruit trees' trunks. Like weeds, it competes for moisture and nutrients. 66. Thin deciduous fruit such as apples, peaches, and plums to at least 10 to 12 inches apart. 67. Let deciduous fruit trees go dry after harvest. Water only if trees wilt.

POOLS, SPAS, WATER FEATURES

68. Cover pools and spas when not in use. More than an inch of water a week can evaporate from uncovered pools (that amounts to almost 2,000 gallons a month for a 20- by 40-foot pool). 69. Turn off fountains.

LAWNS

70. For grass areas you never walk n except to mow, see box. For the grass areas you need to maintain for recreation, follow suggestions 71 through 80. 71. Mow higher. Set you mower at 2 to 2 1/2 inches for bluegrass lawns, 2 1/2 to 3 inces for tall fescue, and 1 inch for warm-season grasses such as Bermuda and zoysia. 72. Check evapotranspiration (ET) guidelines with your water department. Many lawns can stay partially green at half of even those rates. 73. Cut back on fertilizer. Too much nitrogen encourages production of water-thirsty new growth. 74.Pulse-irrrigate. Water at short intervals so soil can absorb the moisture without wasteful runoff. 75. Switch to low-volume sprinklers that apply water at a rate that's slow enough for soil to absorb it. 76. Use a power aerator (available in rental yards) or hand aerator on soil to increase water penetration and reduce runoff. 77. Keep mower blades sharp. Growing grass that gets shredded by dull blades uses more water. 78. Reduce irrigation in shady areas. 79. Stretch the time between irrigations. 80. Withhold water from Bermuda or Kikuyu lawns, but keep them mowed and clipped. They'll green up if rains come next winter.

THE GREAT BIG THING: Getting rid of unused lawn

To stay attractively green through the dry season, mowed grass needs 4 to 6 inches of water a month. For a 20- by 40-foot panel of lawn, that means about 2,500 gallons of water a month--enough to supply the domestic needs of a family of four for 10 days. If you have grass that never gets used, think about getting rid of it. You can just cut off its water--and now is the time to do it. However, do keep lawns that people play on regularly (no other surface is as good for that purpose). If the lawn you stop watering is a hardy grass (bluegrass, fescue, bent, or rye), you should rent a sod-cutter and slice off the surface now (it's harder to do after the grass turns to hay). But with Bermuda and other stoloniferous grasses, the task is harder. Spray now with glyphosate, per label instructions, and again two or three times before October. October will be the time to replace your lawn with ground covers or other plants (in snowy-winter climates, do it before mid-September). For advice on removing a decorative lawn and replacing it with good-looking, low-water-use ground covers, see page 66 of the September 1989 Sunset. You'll learn how we converted nearly an acre of unused lawn to decorative ground covers. No university studies have yet been completed on how much water you save by switching from grass to ground covers--but here at Sunset our new ground covers are using only 10 to 15 percent of the water that the bent grass lawns used.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on saving water and getting rid of unused lawn
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1990
Words:1764
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