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Wheeler: 10 tips to save water in your landscape

POSTED: April 20, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Water is always a precious commodity and it seems that, in the South, we are only about two to three weeks from a drought. We are getting dry in places, so now is the time to think about how you can save water this summer in the garden.

During the peak of summer, the average household typically can use 50 percent more water each month than it typically would in winter. Per capita water consumption is also increasing. Depending on location and season of the year, 90 to 150 gallons can be used by one person.

It is up to all of us to help save water today so we will all have enough tomorrow. Here are 10 ways you can start right in your own backyard.

• Water only when necessary. Wait for your lawn and landscape to show signs of stress before watering. Lawns will turn a dull bluish green, and new growth on shrubs will wilt.

• Water only those plants that need water. Different plants require different amounts of water. Many established shrubs, like holly, cleyera, viburnum and crepe myrtle, once established, can survive weeks without extra water.

• Group plants in the landscapes that have similar water needs. Plant in masses of the same kind of plant instead of scattering the plants throughout the landscape. Plants of the same species have similar water needs.

• Mulch to conserve water. Three inches of mulch like pine straw, fall leaves or pine bark will help the soil retain moisture. Fine-textured mulches, like mini-nugget bark, trap moisture in the soil better than coarse-textured mulches.

• Water at night to save water. Watering between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. will avoid the evaporation of water that occurs during the day.

• Use low-flow irrigation systems on ornamental plants. Drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses apply water slowly and waste little.

• Adjust irrigation systems often. Irrigation systems operating on a time clock should be adjusted daily or at least weekly to account for differences in the natural rainfall pattern. Also use rain sensors with your system. They will not allow the system to come on if it has rained, keeping you from overwatering.

• Use less fertilizer to reduce water needs. The more a plant is encouraged to grow, the more water it needs. Cutting back on how much and how often you fertilize will avoid water-demanding new growth. Most established landscaped require 1 to 3 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. It is common for many to get three times this amount.

• Avoid shearing plants. Shearing plants, just like fertilizing them, stimulates new water-demanding growth. Selective pruning of branches results in reduced size and less new growth than shearing.

Shade landscape plants when possible. A shaded landscape can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than one in full sun.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears weekly and on


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