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Gardening Tips: Save Water and Money, Do Less Work

Through thoughtful landscaping design and good watering practices, homeowners can save thousands of gallons of water every year and immediately lower their water bills - and all you have to do is less work. Here are some ways:

  • Pick drought-tolerant native species and ornamental grasses. The key to saving water through landscaping is by xeriscaping - picking native plants that tolerate heat and dryness. Usually these plants only require water during the first growing season. Ask your local nursery which plants are native to your region.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn and mow "smarter." New lawns require far more water than other plants. Lawns also require regular lawn mowing and fertilizer, which are hard on the environment. By adding porous paving materials and drought-tolerant plants, you can reduce your watering needs and eliminate mowing for that area. To prevent runoff, use gravel, crushed stone, brick, or wood rather than asphalt or concrete to build walkways.
  • Do not water an established lawn. Lawns that are one year old do not require watering to stay alive. Lawns go dormant during heat waves, but will reestablish themselves once cooler weather returns.
  • Water established plants infrequently, but water slowly and deeply. Lightly watering plants on a regular basis can harm plants by promoting shallow root growth. Thoroughly soak the plant's roots with a watering can or a slow drip from the hose. Soaker hoses are even more efficient for large groups of plants. Apply water to the base of plants rather than the foliage, which can promote disease.
  • Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system. These provide a slow, steady drip of water to roots. They also conserve water by reducing runoff and evaporation.
  • Water in the morning. Large amounts of water will be lost to evaporation if you water during the heat of the day. Watering in the evening can promote fungal diseases.
  • Apply mulch. Dress plants and trees with about 2 inches of mulch at planting. This will significantly improve the ability of the plant to withstand dry periods. Do not mulch too close to the stem of the plant since this can promote disease.
  • Add a rain barrel. Capture rainwater for use in landscaping or to wash your car - it's called rainwater harvesting. Guide flexible hose from the rain gutter into a rain or trash barrel. Cover with a lid or with window screen to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs. Attach a spigot and a hose to the barrel to water plants nearby, or simply bail the water.

Tips for Choosing and Maintaining Plants

The key to healthy plants is the soil. Compost is the best bet for most plants and most regions. Create your own compost with a commercial composter, or build your own with a few 2 x 4s. Regular additions of compost will improve all soils, especially those high in clay or sand.

  • Choose plants that fit the proportions of your home. When choosing a plant, determine its size at full growth and compare it to the area you are planting. For example, if your front landing is only 2 feet high, you don't want to buy a shrub that will grow to 6 feet.
  • Assess the light conditions. Choose sun-loving plants for sunny areas and shade-loving plants for shady areas. Many plants will also tolerate part sun/part shade.
  • Fertilize lawns in the fall, not in the spring. Grasses naturally grow quickly in the spring. Too much fertilizer creates disease and pollutes waterways. However, grass needs to be fertilized in the fall to promote root growth.
  • Hand water and fertilize potted plants and hanging baskets more frequently. Potted plants dry out quickly. Mulch the plants and then hand water 2-3 times a week. Fertilize lightly once a week with fish emulsion or compost tea or apply a slow release fertilizer at planting.

For further guidance on lawns and lawn plantings, refer to Chapter 5.2 of PATH's Site Work Rehab Guide, or read the US Environmental Protection Agency's Green Landscaping with Native Plants.

Content updated on 8/3/2006

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