Water Efficient Gardening by Wayne Bowman, Master Gardener.
There’s one constant fact of gardening: If it grows, it needs water. This includes the garden you call your lawn, your flower beds, and that patch where you struggle to grow a few edible vegetables.
In case you haven’t noticed, Northeast Texas is booming, and there’s no end in sight. A critical issue for now and in the future is maintaining an adequate supply of quality water. The pressure on an already limited supply is increasing with the population. Other issues with which we Texans must contend are dry summers and occasional drought. Sometimes we have sufficient water; sometimes we don’t– so we best take care of what we have.
We’re all in this together, so what can we do to help? Plan for the demand. You don’t need to turn your lawn into a rock garden filled with cactus, or a concrete slab. Choosing the right turfgrass for our climate and soil will make better use of landscape water. Bermuda, St. Augustine, and Zoysia are all suitable for our climate, requiring low to moderate amounts of water. If you have an area where there is little traffic, Buffalo grass is excellent and requires the least care and hydration.
Nearly 25% of urban water usage is attributed to lawn irrigation. I’m sure you’ve seen someone watering the street with a poorly planned system or irrigating during a driving rain. Many urban areas now limit the number of days lawn watering is allowed. Just because it’s “your day” to water, doesn’t mean your lawn is thirsty. Using a “cycle and soak” method prevents most runoff by watering for a shorter period of time, then allowing a period for the water to soak into the soil, followed by another, or several, cycles and soaks. If you haven’t already, consider adding to your system a soil moisture monitor that will only allow the system to activate if the soil needs a drink, and a rainfall monitor to stop watering when the heavens are doing the irrigation. Your watering cycles should be set for the early morning (4:00-6:00 am), to take advantage of better water pressure, lower wind, and less evaporation caused by the sun. Aerifying (plugging) your turf will help moisture get to the root systems, making more efficient use of both fertilizer and water. Don’t forget to monitor the system for leaks, etc. Unchecked leaks waste huge amounts of water.
In the garden and flower beds, drip irrigation allows a more precision watering system. Properly designed and installed, it delivers a slow and deep watering to the root zones of your plantings, reducing water loss through evaporation.
Properly conditioning your soil, for both turf and garden, will contribute to the best use of water. A soil test should be considered a must before you plant. Organic amendments will help the clay soils of Northeast Texas better absorb water and nutrients. The benefits of using mulch cannot be stressed enough. A 2-6 inch layer of mulch will protect the soil in your garden from drying out, preventing the baking effects of sun and wind. Layering mulch over a drip irrigation system will make your watering more efficient. Instead of bagging lawn clippings, consider leaving them on the lawn to return nutrients to the soil. A mulching lawnmower and more frequent mowing benefits your lawn and prevents beneficial clippings from wasting away in a landfill.
Choose your plantings wisely, taking into consideration the amount of time you wish to spend tending them and how well they are adapted to our climate. Check with your local certified nursery professional about Texas Superstar plants that have been tested under “Texas conditions.” Visit TexasSuperstar.com for more details. Proper planning, maintaining your irrigation system, mulching, and choosing the right plantings add up to a better lawn and garden, while saving a natural resource and your water bill.