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Skaggs: 10 steps to create drought tolerance

POSTED: July 11, 2008 5:01 a.m.

With the ongoing drought, many home gardeners and landscape professionals alike are looking for ways to save water yet still maintain an attractive landscape. Here are 10 steps to a more drought-tolerant landscape.

1. Put the right plant in the right place with the right soil. Happy plants are healthy plants that will need less water, attention and care. Most ornamental plants, once they are established, can go weeks without supplemental irrigation. In fact, over-watering is a leading cause of problems with ornamentals. Hollies, junipers, crape myrtles and many other ornamentals do not tolerate extended wet periods very well at all.

2. Improve the soil. This is the most important step to making your plants more drought tolerant. Incorporating several inches of organic matter improves the soil's water-holding capacity. Plants will develop a more extensive root system that will "go deep" where the moisture level of the soil is higher. When you use water amended soil, it holds water longer, making it available to the plant for long periods of time.

3. Water carefully. To avoid run-off and water loss, apply water slowly to the base of the plant using a hand-held hose, drip irrigation or soaker hoses. Watering directly at the root zone allows for better infiltration into the soil.

4. Water at the right time. The best time to water is at night or in the early morning. As much as 30 percent of the water applied during midday can be lost to evaporation accelerated by the sun. Currently, watering by hand is still allowed by most municipalities three days per week for 25 minutes per day between midnight and 10 a.m..

5. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Always keep 2 to 3 inches of mulch in beds and around trees. It prevents moisture loss due to evaporation and keeps the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

6. Fertilize sparingly. During times of drought, do not fertilize unless your plants need it - such as nutrient deficiency or yellowing leaves. Fertilizer containing nitrogen results in new growth that requires more water. The more you fertilize with nitrogen, the more you must water to sustain the new growth of the plant. Do apply phosphorous and potassium. Phosphorous encourages rooting, and potassium improves disease resistance.

7. Control weeds. Always keep weeds pulled. Weeds compete with plants for water and can harbor many common insects and diseases.

8. Plant at the right time. Fall and winter are the best times to plant because the plants will not need much water to get established. As the ground does not freeze here in North Georgia, roots grow all winter long and have time to get well established before the heat of summer arrives.

9. Reduce turf areas. As a lawn-lover, this is a tough one for me. However, lawn areas should serve a purpose. Avoid planting turf in areas that are hard to maintain such as steep inclines and isolated strips along sidewalks and driveways.

10. Educate yourself. Many water conservation resources are available in print and online so take advantage of them. A great online resource is Conserve Water Georgia.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension Coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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