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.
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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.