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Water Wisely for a Beautiful Garden and Landscape

By Melinda Myers

Too much or not enough water and never when you need it. That seems to be the long time plight of gardeners. Add to this extended droughts, flooding and watering bans.  What is a gardener to do? Become a water-wise gardener.

Water wise is not just about growing drought tolerant plants or eliminating plantings. It is a holistic approach to managing water to avoid flooding that overwhelms sewer systems, improper watering that wastes water, and poor landscape designs that generate too much work and require too many resources.

Make this the season that you incorporate a few waterwise habits into your gardening.  You’ll find it is good for your garden, the environment and your pocketbook. Start with one or more of these strategies this year.

•    Select the right plant for the growing conditions.  Plants that thrive in normal growing conditions for your area will be healthier, require less care and need less water. Look for drought tolerant plants that require less water once established.

•    Keep water out of the storm sewers and in the garden instead. Prevent flooding while improving your garden. Adding several inches of compost to the top 8 to 12 inches of soil increases the soil’s ability to absorb and retain water. This means less runoff into the storm sewers and less frequent watering.

•    Use plants to prevent runoff and conserve water. Plant trees, shrubs, and groundcovers to slow the flow of rainwater, increase the amount of water that stays in your landscape for your plants, and to filter water before it enters the groundwater. Install one or more rain gardens to intercept surface water runoff for use by rain garden plants and to help recharge the groundwater.   

•    Provide plants with a healthy diet. Use a slow release non-leaching organic nitrogen fertilizer like Milorganite(milorganite.com). You’ll encourage slow steady growth, so your plants will require less water and be less prone to insect and disease problems. Plus, the slow release nitrogen encourages healthy growth and does not prevent flowering and fruiting.

•    Water wisely. Water plants thoroughly and only when needed. Water the soil, not the plant, using a watering wand, drip irrigation or a soaker hose so less water is lost to evaporation. Water early in the morning whenever possible to reduce water loss during the heat of the day and diseases caused by wet foliage at night.

•    Manage your lawns to reduce water use.  Select drought tolerant grass varieties to reduce watering needs.  Prepare the soil before seeding or sodding or aerate and spread a thin layer of compost over existing lawns to increase water absorption and reduce runoff. Mow high to encourage deep roots that are more drought tolerant and pest resistant.  Allow lawns to go dormant during hot dry weather. If irrigating, water thoroughly when needed, that’s when your footprints remain in the lawn.

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