One of the best things you can do to start preparing your yard for next summer's heat is to incorporate efficient water management into your landscape planning and implementation. Here are some things you should consider to maximize your water conservation efforts.
Lawns vs beds
A well-manicured lawn is an admirable thing, but if you've ever cared for one, then you know it's also a major water-guzzler. Lawns simply require more watering than beds.
Consider minimizing your lawn areas, and where you do keep your lawn, consider drought-tolerant varieties of grass or a lawn alternative such as a low-growing, hardy groundcover. Many groundcovers can tolerate foot traffic as well as more traditional grasses do, and some are also fragrant, insect repellent, or have other pleasant benefits. Explore the groundcover section of your local nursery to see what is available to you and recommended for Atlanta.
Groundcovers also look great in beds and can serve as a sort of living mulch. Mulching is, in fact, one of the best things you can do to protect your plants' roots from harsh weather conditions. Mulch also helps minimize damage done by mower blades and weedeaters as well as impeding weed growth. Many different types of mulch are available for purchase. Consult your local nursery or a landscape designer for advice on which is best for your beds.
Early fall and early spring are the best times to plant or transplant, as the cooler weather allows plants to establish deep, healthy root systems by the time summer's heat arrives.
Native plants are a great landscaping option for many reasons. By definition, they are perfectly adapted for your area and, once established, require less care and are more hardy than exotic, non-native or genetically engineered alternatives.
Once they are established, native plants should be virtually maintenance free, requiring little or no watering and being largely resistant to native pests, diseases and other environmental hardships. To find out what plants are native to Atlanta, consult a professional landscape designer, your local cooperative extension or the Atlanta Botanical Garden hotline. Some nurseries also have native plant sections, if you'd like to see them firsthand.
When placing new plants in your landscape, be sure you have chosen healthy plants and that they will get everything they need to thrive once they're in the ground. Resist the temptation to crowd your new plants too closely together. Your beds may look a little roomy initially but will fill in as your plants come into their own over the next few years. Arrange plants with similar watering needs together to allow for more targeted, efficient watering. This practice is called developing "irrigation zones," and it's another significant element to a good landscaping plan.
The planning and implementing of irrigation zones takes place during the design and planting periods, but when installing irrigation systems or developing your manual watering plan, you will make decisions based on the irrigation zones that you developed. Zoning or grouping your plants based on their watering needs is the best thing you can do to target your water distribution, cutting down on water waste and promoting your plants' overall health by ensuring each plant gets the water it needs.
Automatic irrigation systems, when used properly, can help you conserve water and care for your plants more effectively.
- Oscillating sprinklers waste water by blanket watering driveways, streets and other impermeable surfaces and losing more water to evaporation than other methods.
- Drip irrigation systems are excellent for targeted watering. Drip holes can be tailored to specific plant placement in your beds, sending water straight to the roots of the plants you want without also watering the weeds that you don't.
- Sensors and weather-based technologies can further tailor your watering schedule by responding automatically to environmental fluctuations.
If an irrigation system isn't for you, consider incorporating these options:
- Collect rain water for watering. NOTE: Using rainwater runoff on edible plants is not recommended, as runoff from most roof shingles may contain chemicals poisonous to humans.
- A hose timer is a commonly available, inexpensive tool that can help prevent overwatering.
- A soaker hose allows for greater water absorption by your plants and eliminates water loss due to evaporation.
Create good habits
An efficient design lays a solid foundation for your water conservation efforts, but nurturing good habits in maintaining your greenspace is also important. Start practicing these suggestions now so that they will be habits by the time next summer's sweltering heat arrives.
Lawn mowing: To keep your lawn looking its best and consuming healthy but not exorbitant amounts of water, allow your grass to grow a little longer to shade and protect its roots from heat and slow down water evaporation. Don't mow too often or crop your grass too short. A recommended height for your mower blade is three inches.
Watering habits: Water in the morning to take advantage of cooler temperatures. Despite a return to cooler temperatures later in the day, avoid evening watering as a general rule, as the lack of evaporation afterward can lead to mildew and fungus.
Efficient water use is key to a healthy yard. With a little foresight and planning now, your yard will thrive.