In the Garden:
Lower South
August, 2003
Regional Report

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Drip irrigation is a great way to get the most from your watering dollars.

Water-Wise Gardening

This summer has been a long hot one. Many areas of the south have experienced significant droughts, and numerous cities have gone on water restrictions to conserve this precious resource.

When it comes to residential water use, our landscapes can push the water supply system to its limit each summer. Household uses are fairly constant throughout the year, but a major peak in the typical family's water bill comes in summer when we start pouring large quantities of drinking water out on the landscape.

There is a lot we can do to conserve water in the landscape. Here are a few tips to help you save on your summer water bills without sacrificing the beauty and health of your gardens.

Water-Conserving Tips
1) Choose drought-tolerant plants. While all plants need water, some can survive drought better than others. If you have to cut back, they know how to go into a summer dormancy and then return again with the next rain.

2) Design for water savings. Group plants by watering needs. Place those gaudy tropicals and thirsty annual color beds near the house in areas where they can be kept wet and happy. Create other zones for irrigation where plants need less or no supplemental watering.

3) Build soil. Sandy soil dries out way too fast. Mix in compost to help sand hold water. Shallow soils limit root depth and thus drought resilience. Bring in soil so plants can develop a more extensive root zone.

4) Check your irrigation system. If you have an automatic system an audit can be conducted to evaluate its efficiency. They’ll check uniformity of distribution as well as coverage. They’ll measure for proper pressure and alignment of heads. Some cities offer this service to their water customers.

5) Use drip irrigation. Sprinklers can waste water because much is lost to evaporation. Drip irrigation puts the water right on the soil where it can soak in and benefit the plants. Foliage stays drier, reducing disease problems. Microjets are similar to sprinklers as they apply coarse drops down low to minimize evaporative losses.

6) Water wisely. It is better to give plants a good soaking less often than to provide a brief, light watering every day or two. Proper watering builds a deep, efficient root system instead of a shallow, dependent one. Water long enough to soak soil about 6 to 8 inches deep, and even deeper for trees and larger shrubs.

Now is a good time to take an early morning stroll through the landscape to evaluate the situation. Which plants need moving to another location? How is the irrigation system performing? Which plants are just too wimpy to take the heat? What changes might be considered for the upcoming fall planting season? What changes in irrigation should be planned before next summer arrives?

These are just a few of the many tips to help us water more wisely, and to sustain a beautiful landscape despite the brutal heat of summer.


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