Sure, we’re knee-deep in winter right now but before you know it, temperatures will warm, the garden will beckon and you’ll trade high heating bills for monstrous water bills. “Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day,” claims the EPA; a frightening statistic, when one considers that less than 1 percent of the earth’s water is available for human use.
As you consider your gardening plan for 2017, why not resolve to use less water? If you live in an area served mostly by wells, like Western Loudoun, you will REALLY save on those water bills!
Reconsider Those Container Gardens
Container gardens seem to be water efficient but, sadly, the opposite is true. Soil in containers tends to dry out quicker than the garden’s soil, requiring more water, more frequently. Unless you’re an apartment or condo dweller with limited space, consider foregoing the terra cotta planters this season and vow to plant everything in the ground.
Lawns are Water Hogs
Consider this: A lawn requires, on average, 1 inch of water, or a bit more than a half-gallon of water per square foot, according to Ben Erickson at todayshomeowner.com. He goes on to say that every 10-foot square area lawn requires 62 gallons of water at each irrigation. “That doesn’t sound like much until you consider that a 100’ x 100’ lawn uses 6,230 gallons of water every time you turn on the sprinklers!” he adds.
How much does your water cost? Using $2.00 per 1,000 gallons as an estimate, plan on paying about $50 a month just to water your lawn during the growing season.
Sure, a lush, green lawn can amp up a home’s curb appeal, but if you plan on staying put for a while, consider getting rid of it or at the very least, cutting down its size or replanting with a less thirsty variety of turfgrass.
Save water and money by choosing from among these alternatives:
- Dig up the lawn and build a patio in its place.
- Reduce the size of the lawn.
- Dig up the lawn and replace it with a water-smart alternative, such as buffalo grass, clover or silver carpet (Dymondia margaretae).
- Keep the lawn but work toward decreasing the amount of water it requires. Aerate the soil, fertilize only in the fall and mow less frequently (taller grass cools the soil, keeping it moist longer). Weeds steal water from the lawn, so keep it weed-free. Have a professional inspect your lawn’s irrigation system for leaks and consider replacing it if it isn’t efficient.
Install a Drip System for Your Garden
Drip irrigation is the least expensive and most efficient way to water a garden. By slowly dripping water to the plants’ root systems, the soil is able to absorb the moisture and avoid runoff. In fact, according to the EPA, drip irrigation systems use .”. . .20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems and can save up to 30,000 gallons per year.”
If you must use a sprinkler system, the EPA recommends that you choose one with rotary spray heads rather than mist spray heads.
Do some research before heading out to your local nursery when the first signs of spring arrive. Find out which plants are native to our area and consider using as many as possible in your garden plan. Native plants are adapted to local weather conditions and soil and require far less water than non-natives.
If in doubt about how much water a plant requires, avoid purchasing plants with glossy, large, dark-colored leaves. These leaves “absorb more heat and require a lot of water, and a larger leaf surface area equals greater water loss,” according to National Geographic’s Carolyn Bistline.
Additional Water-Saving Ideas
- Know how much water each plant requires and change the irrigation system’s output to match those needs.
- Water established plants, including trees, at the dripline, not near the main stem or trunk. This is the area where most of the water-absorbing roots are located.
- Mulch the soil to insulate plant roots from heat and conserve moisture.
- Keep pruning to a minimum to avoid stimulating new growth (which requires additional water).
- Avoid plants that will smash your budget by sucking your yard dry. These include the tropicals, such as hibiscus and banana; annual plants, such as impatiens; lemon, kiwi, apple and other water-guzzling fruit trees. Some of the more popular garden plants, such as hydrangea, canna and mint are also heavy drinkers.
January is the ideal time to start planning the spring garden. Gather up those seed catalogs and nursery flyers and plan a water smart landscape in 2017.