Your greenery can look great with less water than you're using.
Lack of rainfall and municipal watering restrictions have made gardening difficult in our area. The threat of global warming looms, and we are told our climate will become more arid. What do we do? We cannot abandon our dreams of beautiful gardens, so we must plan to use our water wisely.
In gardens it is the lawn that requires the most water, not to mention fertilizer and weed control chemicals, so take a good look at your lawn area and decide if you need all that grass. Play areas need a suitably forgiving surface but not necessarily grass, which can be eroded to mud or dust under the swing set - fine pea gravel is becoming very popular for play and pet areas. Extending a patio or deck increases outdoor living space, or maybe adding a sunroom which could be enjoyed in the winter months. Grassy slopes can be difficult to mow and water, so consider replanting with low maintenance ground cover perennials. Shade tolerant perennials will grow well in that shady area where the grass is always sparse.
Always select plants for the correct site in the garden, taking into consideration their cultural requirements: whether they like sun or shade, moist soil or a dry spot, and shelter from wind. Native plants are both attractive and well adapted to our climate, and many xeriphytes [drought resistant plants] are available in garden centers. To name a few, speedwells, artemesias, stonecrops, flax and cushion spurge are perennials that are drought tolerant. The choice of xeriphytic shrubs and trees is not limited to caragana: spruce, pine, oak, maple, Russian olive, wolf willow and potentilla require little water once rooted in. Established drought resistant plants require little water but new plantings need care until the root systems are adequate, usually the first two years. Aim to group plants with similar needs to rationalize watering, especially if you are installing automatic irrigation.
The addition of organic matter to the soil is very important as this will help with water retention, so dig in lots of compost and peat moss every year. If this is done consistently, you will be amazed at the reduction in the time you spend watering in the summer! And in the amount of water you use.
Plan your irrigation system this winter: this may be an automated system or simply the installation of rain barrels under downspouts to collect rainwater from rooftops. Trickle irrigation conserves water as less is lost by evaporation than when using sprinklers. If sprinklers are used, make sure they are on a timer and are aligned correctly so as to avoid watering your driveway and sidewalk. Aim to water your lawn one inch [measure with an upturned Frisbee or tuna can] once per week to encourage deep rooting, and avoid cutting the grass lower than three inches. Ideally you should water in the early morning when winds are light, temperatures are cool and humidity is higher, so set automatic timers accordingly.
Rain barrels should be covered with a lid to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water and discourage algal growth. Soaker hoses may be attached to the tap for irrigation of flower and vegetable beds, or one can fill watering cans as needed. Newly planted trees require watering to a depth of two feet until their roots are established, so be prepared to water every three or four days if necessary, less if it rains. Tree irrigation rings or spikes are wonderful for delivering the correct amount of water to the root zone of your trees.
Mulching prevents the soil surface from drying and eroding, and also reduces weed growth, so make consistent mulching part of you water conservation plan. Use organic matter such as compost, grass clippings or straw, which will break down and may be dug into the soil, or bark chips. Various gravels are also popular as the rocks absorb heat during the day, releasing it at night to warm the soil. Usually landscape fabric is laid under the gravel to retard weed growth.
Limited water availability should not curtail your gardening dreams! There are many beautiful plants that thrive in a dry climate so plan to use your water wisely for those that need it.