There is a growing awareness of the importance of conserving water in our landscapes, and there are several ways that we home gardeners can help to save water in our yards and gardens. Not only will this benefit the environment, it will also help reduce your water bills.
The first place to start is with your lawn. Lawns are the single biggest user of water in the home landscape. Lawns can definitely be beautiful and are useful at certain times in one’s life, when the kids are young and need a play area for example, but maybe now it’s time to make some changes You might consider reducing the size of your lawn area and replacing some parts with wide flower beds of drought tolerant Mediterranean and California native plants. If you still prefer a grassy look, there are grasses that are drought tolerant such as sedges. These grow a bit taller than traditional turf grass and have a more casual meadow look requiring very infrequent mowing and much less water.
The next area to evaluate is your soil. Most likely you have either sandy soil or clay soil, and both these types of soil become more efficient at retaining water when amendments are added. Amendments include compost and well aged manure. You can buy various amendments at your local nursery and these can be added to your soil when you install a new plant. If you are doing a major makeover in your landscape, such as removing your lawn, you may need a large quantity of amendments. Cal Poly sells compost and can help you determine the amount you would need depending on your space and will also deliver it to you.
Now that your soil is all prepared, you are ready to select your plants. You can choose Mediterranean or California natives that are drought tolerant (most are drought tolerant, but not all of them are). There are varying degrees of drought tolerance from virtually no water to moderate water so it is best to group plants with similar water needs together for easier maintenance. Even if a plant is labeled drought tolerant, it still needs plenty of water to become established. During the initial growth period, when a plant is developing its root system, deep watering helps to encourage the roots to go deep into the ground. This benefits the plant throughout its life, because if the roots go deep into the ground they will stay cooler and be closer to the moisture in the earth. On the other hand, if the roots stay close to the surface of the ground, they can easily dry out which can lead to a plant’s death. During the first few months after you have added a new plant to your garden, water the plant deeply and often. This could be every other day if you plant in hot weather. Let a large amount of water soak into the ground. Make sure it drains well however, because you don’t want to water log the plant either. You can taper off the frequency of deep watering after the first few months, but you still want to water deeply on a weekly basis. It can take 18-24 months to establish a drought tolerant plant in your garden, but once it is established, it can get by with very little watering.
All plants will benefit from deep watering less often than light watering more frequently….but you don’t want to over water either. I know, it seems contradictory but the single commonest garden error is to over-water lawns, ornamentals and shrubs. So water deep but let the soil dry out between watering, no soggy soil. An added benefit of reducing water will be less rampant growth (especially of shrubs) which means less pruning and maintenance.
One last thing, mulch. Once you have your plants all settled in, be sure to put mulch around your plants to keep that precious water from rapid evaporation and keep the plant roots cool. Once you see your new lower water bill you will be glad you made the change to a more drought tolerant landscape.
5 Ways to Save Water in Your Landscape
1. Reduce the size of your lawn.
2. Choose drought tolerant plants.
3. Add water retaining amendments to you soil.
4. Train your plants to be drought tolerant by deep watering during the establishing phase.
5. Add mulch around plants to slow water evaporation.