As I travel the country, I’m hearing more and more about the shortage of water and seeing the toll it’s taking on lawns and gardens. As their way of dealing with drought, some municipalities have restricted outdoor watering completely while others have limited allowable times to a small window each week.
Just to see how widespread and severe this problem is, I checked out a website that tracks drought conditions. If you’d like to see this and other related maps, click here.
Surprisingly, both Alaska and Hawaii are in drought conditions as well. Attribute the excessive dryness or abundant rainfall elsewhere to global warming or whatever you want. But the fact remains, drought conditions are getting worse for many of us.
So what can we do to keep our lawns and landscapes looking green, despite decreasing water and increasing restrictions? The following suggestions will help get you through the hottest, driest months, with the least amount of damage.
The toughest, most drought tolerant plants are those that are native to your area. They are genetically adapted to at least survive temperature and moisture conditions for that area. Even when these environmental challenges are unusual, these plants are best equipped to tough it out.
Women and Children First
How does this relate to plants you ask? When water resources are limited, use them on the most important, hardest to replace plants first. When dealing with drought, this translates to letting the lawn go. It’s easy to replace and quick to recover.
Instead, use limited water to hydrate those valuable, newly installed landscape plants that are still trying to establish, or those larger or more expensive specimens that would be costly to replace.
Think about it. During times of stress, do you want to coast, or run a marathon? The same analogy applies to plants. Water-starved lawns, trees and plants shouldn’t be subjected to the increased pressure to put out new growth. In fact, just the opposite is true. Fertilizer not only introduces moisture robbing salts into the soil, it signals the plant that it’s time to get busy and go to work. Stop this! Fertilizer doesn’t help a drought stressed plant or lawn grow. It can actually make the condition even worse!
Improve the Soil
Soil that is well amended with organic matter means more efficient water holding capacity.
Water deeply and slowly
Soaker hoses and drip irrigation is an easy way to make this happen. The premise is to allow the water to be delivered slowly enough to saturate the soil around the root zone.
Short, frequent waterings have the potential to do more harm than good. In this case, water fails to soak deeply into the soil. Roots remain close to the surface, where the water is, and can suffer when the soil there becomes dry.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Mulch keeps soil cooler and protects it from the drying effects of sun, heat and wind. Don’t worry about what type of mulch to use. Just apply a layer of 3-4 inches around your plants.
Besides the fact that you may be restricted by when you can water, irrigating at the wrong time can be extremely wasteful and have little benefit to your plants and lawn.
As the day warms up, evaporation and wind figure more prominently. Water loss to evaporation can exceed 50% in warm, windy conditions, especially when delivered by overhead hi-pressure systems.
Irrigate your plants and lawn during the dew cycle; typically from about 10: pm to 9: am. Use automatic timers to ensure watering starts and stops on time. They’re inexpensive, simple to operate and take much of the guesswork out of when and how much water to apply.
Capture and Conserve
On those heavenly days when it actually does rain, do everything you can to capture this resource. Rain barrels positioned beneath downspouts are an easy way to collect gallons of water.
Although these tips barely scratch the surface, following them will make a big difference in helping your garden and lawn survive the challenges of drought.
One comment regarding rain barrels… I’m in a rental house with no downspouts in southern California, and when it does rain (or rain’s in the forecast for later that day but I’ve got to get to the office), I’ve taken to scampering outside to strategically place buckets where the water tends to flow most freely off the roof. I’m not capturing the entire roof area’s water that way, but every bucketful I do capture is a bit more water I won’t be pulling from the municipal water supply. The neighborly extra task is not to leave the empty buckets sitting around looking awkward when it’s not raining!
Joe Lamp'l says
Nice touch Adele. And I’m sure your neighbors appreciate your consideration for removing the buckets as well. Perhaps on the non-rainy days, you can take those buckets inside and place them under the downspout in your sink or tub.
I find that to be a great place to collect several gallons a day in “warm up water” – that water that we always waste as we’re waiting for the water to get hot. So much water down the drain otherwise. Thanks for sharing Adele and keep up the good work.
Thanks, Joe! One of the smaller buckets does usually live in the bathroom when not out under the eaves, for catching shower warm-up water! 🙂
And thank you, and thanks to everyone at Growing a Greener World, for such a wonderful show and website… I discovered the site a little while back by clicking around various links from Patti’s GardenGirlTV pages, and I have now watched all of season one at this point. I’m starting in on season two now, with a slight side-track to read your wonderful $25 challenge blog posts from three years back. I have been so very inspired, by each episode and article!
I’m trying out all sorts of new things in my garden and in my kitchen now. I built a worm bin this weekend! And although I’ve had to adapt some of Chef Nathan’s fabulous recipes to be lower-sodium and less-butter, so far, every one of those I’ve tried here at home has been a grand success! I’m having so much fun.
Thanks again, to everyone here, for all that you do!
Joe Lamp'l says
And Thank you too Adele! We love hearing about all the ways people are discovering us and all they’re learning and doing, or simply that they are enjoying what we do.
Thanks for sharing that with us.