10 ways to become more water-wise in your landscape

1. Get your soil right before you plant anything – If your soil is too sandy, water will pass through it too rapidly and your plants will be thirsty. If your soil has too much clay, water will go though it too slowly, possibly drowning your plants. The solution for both problems is adding organic matter, such as compost, chopped up leaves, decomposed manure, peat moss, and others.  

2. Use native plants, especially drought-tolerant ones Obviously, native plants are used to conditions where you live and natural rainfall is usually sufficient.

3. Plan before you plant Think of each area around your yard as a microclimate. If it’s a sunny dry area, use plants that will thrive in those conditions; likewise for a shady or wet area. By grouping plants with the same watering requirements, you will not end up underwatering or overwatering plants near each other. An excellent resource for finding what plants do well in different spots in your yard is The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists by Lois Trigg Chaplin, which is available at the bookstore (888-265-3600 to order by phone).

4. Use mulch A 2-4 inch layer of organic mulch can significantly lower watering needs by blocking competing weeds, keeping soil cooler, and reducing evaporation. 

Photo by Norman Winter.

5. Cut back on the lawn Consider replacing part of it with ground covers or low-maintenance perennials. 

6. Water in the wee hours of the morning – Assuming you have an irrigation system on a timer, set it to run between 3-6 a.m. However, anytime plants start to show symptoms of drought stress is the time to water them, even if this means the middle of the day. Waiting too long may be too late.

7. Water deeply – Instead of marginally watering everyday, water established plants more infrequently but deeply so that your encourage roots to grow downward, thereby avoiding the typical wet-dry cycle found in the surface soil area. The same goes with your lawn.

8. Irrigate efficiently Use drip irrigation or a low-flow spray heads to deliver water directly to your plants roots, avoiding overspray and runoff. Add a rain sensor to your irrigation system to help monitor rainfall – We’ve all seen our neighbors running their sprinklers in the middle of downpour, something we would never do, right?

Photo by Mark Brown.

9. Plant in the fall – The weather is cooler, winter rains will help establish deeper and healthier root systems before the plants have to deal with the summer heat.

10. Choose water-wise plants – In general, use established or slow growing plants; varieties with small or narrow leaves; gray or silver leaves; or leathery, hairy, curly, or fuzzy leaves. While not always, these types of plants usually require less moisture.

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