PASSAIC COUNTY, N.J. -- When summer weather turns hot and dry, it can take a serious toll on plants in your landscape. Cross your fingers for summer showers that give much needed relief. But what do you do when Mother Nature isn’t cooperating?
Before you grab the garden hose, consider this information from the EPA – landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day nationwide. Half of that water is wasted due to evaporation, misdirected watering and over-watering.
How can you use water responsibly and efficiently in your landscape? The first step is to recognize that water is a valuable and expensive resource that we often take for granted here in the East. We face more frequent periods of drought with climate change – be prepared.
Here are 7 tips to keep your landscape looking good while preserving the H2O:
1) Start with appropriate plant choices, favoring regional native plants that are adapted to our area. Put the right plant in the right place – plant a moisture-loving plant in a dry site and you have to water it constantly. But remember, all newly planted plants, native or not, need sufficient irrigation in the first growing season – delivered either by you or by Mother Nature.
2) Reduce your lawn – the greatest water addict in our landscapes. The EPA estimates that the average American lawn uses 20,000 gallons of water per year! Lawns, with their shallow-rooted turf grasses, rarely look good without supplemental irrigation. Replace turf by extending your plant bed lines and adding native plants that require less water, while contributing far more to your ecosystem.
3) Water in the early morning to allow plant leaves to dry off during the day. This helps to discourage fungal problems, keeping plants healthier. If you water late in the day, or even worse, at night, you are setting up the ideal conditions for fungal diseases, and stressed, unhealthy plants.
4) Water by hand to give each plant exactly the amount of water that it needs and where it needs it – on the roots. Although this is time-consuming, it’s relaxing and you will get to know your plants far better, spotting problems when they first appear.
5) If you cannot water by hand, get soaker hoses or a drip irrigation system to deliver water to plant roots – where it is needed. Overhead watering with sprinklers is enormously wasteful - evaporation takes a toll, and water goes everywhere. The average landscape irrigated by a sprinkler system wastes about 10,000 gallons of water a year.
6) If you use an irrigation system with a timer, make sure it has a rain sensor. We have all seen those yards where an automatic sprinkler is operating at full tilt during a rainstorm. Water when needed, and only when needed. Always check the soil around plants first to determine if watering is needed at all.
7) Water deeply and less frequently. The common practice of brief, daily watering encourages roots to stay close to the surface, making plants more susceptible to drought. Deep, less frequent watering encourages plant roots to grow further down into the soil, making them more drought-tolerant.
Before you pull out the hose this summer, remind yourself that water is one of our most precious resources. Be water-wise!
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial ! Writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.