Xeriscape™ – Water Conservation
Adequate supply of high quality water has become a critical issue for Texas and many states in the south and southwest U.S. Rapidly increasing populations have increased the demand on state’s already limited supply of high quality water. In addition, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall and periodic droughts have created a feast-to-famine weather cycle.
In urban areas about 25 percent of the water supply is used for landscape and garden watering. Much of this water is used to maintain traditionally high water demanding landscapes, or it is simply applied inefficiently.
In an attempt to reduce the excessive water use, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service is educating people in Xeriscape landscaping, quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment. This concept is a first of a kind, comprehensive approach to landscaping for water conservation. Traditional landscapes may incorporate one or two principles of water conservation, but they do not utilize the entire concept to reduce landscape water use effectively.
Xeriscape landscaping incorporates seven basic principles which lead to saving water.
Landscape planning and design
Practical turf areas
Appropriate plant selection
Use of mulches
Xeriscape landscapes need not only be cactus and rock gardens. They can be green, cool landscapes full of beautiful plants maintained with water-efficient practices.
Start With a Plan
Creating a water-efficient landscape begins with a well thought out landscape design. Sketch your yard with locations of existing structures, trees, shrubs and grass areas. Consider your landscape budget, appearance, function, maintenance and water requirements.
Soil Analysis and Preparation
To increase plant health and conserve water, add organic matter to the soil of shrub and flower bed areas. This increases the soil’s ability to absorb and store water in a form available to the plant. As a rule of thumb, till in 4 to 6 inches of organic material such as shredded pine bark, peat and rice hulls.
Select trees, shrubs and groundcovers based on their adaptability to your region’s soil and climate. Most have lower water demands, fewer pest problems and less fertilizer needs than many nonadapted, exotic plants brought into your landscape.
Outstanding Landscape Plants for Xeriscapes
Grasses, lawn and ornamental
Vines and Groundcovers
Water Saving Native Plants
An added benefit of Xeriscape landscapes is less maintenance. A well designed landscape can decrease maintenance by as much as 50 percent through reduced mowing to once a year mulching, elimination of weak, unadapted plants and more efficient watering techniques.
Of the tremendous amounts of water applied to lawns and gardens, much of it is never absorbed by the plants and put to use. Some water is lost to runoff by being applied too rapidly, and some water evaporates from exposed, unmulched sois, but, the greatest waste of water is applying too much too often.
Most lawns receive twice as much water as they require for a healthy appearance. The key to watering lawns is to apply the water infrequently, yet thoroughly. This creates a deep, well-rooted lawn that efficiently uses water stored in the soil. To know when to water the lawn, simply observe the grass. Wilting and discoloration are signs of water stress. At the first sign of wilting, you have 24 to 48 hours to water before serious injury occurs. Apply 1 inch of water to the lawn as rapidly as possible without runoff.
Trees and Shrubs
All trees and shrubs need more frequent watering from planting time until becoming well rooted, which may take two growing seasons. Once established, plants can then be weaned to tolerate less frequent watering. Proper weaning develops deep roots and makes the plants more drought enduring. As with lawns, water established trees, shrubs and groundcovers infrequently, yet thoroughly. In the absence of rain, most trees and shrubs benefit from a once a month thorough watering during the growing season.
The goal of any irrigation system is to give plants a sufficient amount of water without waste. By zoning an irrigation system, grass areas can be watered separately and more frequently than groundcovers, shrubs and trees. Both sprinkler and drip irrigation can be incorporated to achieve water conservation in the landscape.
Is the most commonly used method of landscape watering. The two most common types of sprinkler irrigation systems are the hose end sprinkler and the permanent underground system. Even though a permanent sprinkler system can be more water efficient than a hose end sprinkler, both systems require little maintenance and apply large volumes of water in a short time. With either hose-end sprinklers or permanent systems, water between late evening and mid-morning to avoid excessive waste through evaporation.
Drip irrigation offers increased watering efficiency and plant performance when compared to sprinkler irrigation. Drip irrigation slowly applies water to soil. The water flows under low pressure through emitters, bubblers or spray heads placed at each plant. Water applied by drip irrigation has little chance of waste through evaporation or runoff.
Mulching Conserves Moisture
Mulch is a layer of nonliving material covering the soil surface around plants. Mulches can be organic materials such as pine bark, compost and woodchips; or inorganic materials, such as lava rock, limestone or permeable plastic, not sheet plastic.
Use a mulch wherever possible. A good mulch conserves water by significantly reducing moisture evaporation from the soil. Mulch also reduces weed populations, prevents soil compaction and keeps soil temperatures more moderate. Proper Mowing and Fertilizing Conserves Water.
Other Cultural Practices To Save Water
Practices that add to the efficient use of water by plants are periodic checks of the irrigation system, properly timed insect and disease control and elimination of water demanding weeds.
The seven principles of Xeriscape landscaping are not new, they have been practiced in the landscape industry for decades. The concept of combining all seven guidelines into one effort toward landscape water conservation is what makes Xeriscape landscaping unique.
Source documents: Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Douglas F. Welsh, Extension Horticulturist, William C. Welch, Extension Landscape Horticulturist, Richard L. Duble, Extension Turfgrass Specialist
Xeriscape™ and Xeriscape™ logo are trademarks of the Denver Water Department.
Why is common sense so uncommon?
Don’t be shy. Leave me your comment(s)