Fresh water is in limited supply and it is essential for life. That should be reason enough to care about water conservation and drought-tolerant landscapes. There are several ways to be smart about outdoor water use.
• Capture Stormwater—The first and best way to get the most out of water in your landscape is to capture free stormwater before it runs off your property. You can use rain barrels and gutter chains on a small scale, but better yet is to lobby for large-scale constructed wetlands for your regional water use.
• Get a Soil Test—Good, healthy soil allows water to percolate and grabs it for distribution to plant roots.
• Amend the Soil—Use decomposed organic matter as a soil amendment. It has magic fairy dust. It really does!
• Limit Fertilization During Dry Periods—Pushing plants to put out more vegetative growth when they are stressed is not nice. Let the plants focus their survival resources on staying alive.
• Remove Garden Debris and Weeds—The last thing your stressed-out landscape needs is competition from weeds and pests lurking in the rubbish piles. Keep things tidy during droughts.
• Be Patient—Wait until leaves are a gray/green color or they start wilting slightly. This forces roots to grow deeply in search of a water source. Deep roots are much more drought-tolerant than shallow roots.
• Dying Branches—Mete out tough love, but don’t be brutal. If you wait until your shrubs and trees have dying branches, you have taken things too far.
• Timing is Everything—Water in the early morning hours. Plant during the wetter, dormant season months. Wait to water, but when you do, water for a long time to send moisture deep into the ground. Plants like at least one inch of water per week. Don’t depend on automatic irrigation timers to think for you. Manually start your sprinkler system only when you think it is essential for plant survival.
• Consider the Western Sun—Locate only the most sun-tolerant plants where they will be exposed to the western sun. It can be brutal!
• Reduce Turf Areas—Turf is not just for filling space. Think about it as a very expensive carpet, and maximize any lawn areas for an attractive design to be used in areas accessible to frequent maintenance.
• Consider Drought-tolerant Lawn Grasses—Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede, Tall Fescue, Bluegrass. These are listed in order from most to least drought-tolerant.
• Mulch Plant Beds—Mulch keeps roots cool and deters weed competition. What’s not to like?
• Living Mulch—Work toward a goal of replacing all mulched beds with groundcover. It will save you from biennial pine straw applications.
• Design Your Landscape in Zones—Consolidate high, moderate, and low water use zones when planning your landscape. Keep the high use zones close to a water source in highly visual focal points. Max out the largest areas for low water use plants and mulch to save on money, maintenance time, and most importantly, water!