The Sun News

MEEKS: Save time, money with water-wise landscape

During my site visits with some of the local farmers today, all of them spoke about how much we need some rain. It’s hard to believe a few weeks ago I was writing an article about how too much water can cause disease.

Now we are praying for a drop of rain. With that in mind, what can we do during these situations to make every drop count in our landscape?

Water-wise landscapes not only save water, but they save time and money. Plants in a water-wise landscape are carefully selected for location and grouped together based on water needs. Cultural practices are also used to maximize the soil’s ability to hold water and minimize water loss. The goals of a water-wise landscape is to minimize vegetative growth, conserve moisture in the soil and reduce water loss to evaporation.

Organic mulches are a great asset to a water-wise landscape. For best water conservation, maintain 3-5 inches of mulch on the soil surface. Drip irrigation is the most effective way to water. Drip hoses do not apply water to the foliage reducing disease and evaporation. These can be laid under the mulch.

Nitrogen is the first number in a fertilizer analysis and stimulates new growth. New growth is the first to wilt during periods of limited rainfall. When shoot growth increases, root growth decreases. Most established healthy trees and shrubs only need fertilizer once every two to three years. Most herbaceous perennials perform well when fertilized every other year. Annual flowers and roses require regular feeding to grow and flower well. Never fertilize during dry periods because the chemical salts may dehydrate roots. The best time to fertilize ornamental plants is in the spring during active growth.

Aerating your turfgrass helps to improve the percolation and movement of water and nutrients into the soil. Let your clippings fall where they may instead of bagging. Research has shown they work their way back into the grass and act like much for the soil surface. Grass clippings also recycle as much as 30 percent of the nitrogen applied to the lawn back into the grass as the clippings decompose. The key is to mow often so the clippings remain small and move readily back into the grass.

Water only the plants that are showing signs of moisture stress. Plants under moisture stress will turn a grayish-green color or wilt. If you are hand watering, apply slowly enough that the water can be absorbed by the soil.

Not only are weeds unattractive in the landscape, but they compete for moisture as well. Mulching will help prevent weeds, but some hand weeding or an application of a herbicide is inevitable.

Pruning during the summer encourages new growth. Minimizing summer pruning allows the plant to focus its energy on root growth.

Hopefully soon we will see some rain clouds move our way to bring us the rain we need.

Source: Make Every Drop Count: Managing a Water-Wise Landscape, Gary L. Wade

For more information on any program area, contact Houston County Extension at 478-987-2028 or drop by our office in Perry, 801 Main St., from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Visit our website at for more news about your local Extension office.