Our landscapes provide us with beautiful surroundings, natural cooling, and the cleansing of our environment. Nearly 65% of the annual culinary water consumption in Utah is applied to landscapes. Unfortunately, many landscapes are over-irrigated, wasting precious water.
Keeping water-wise landscaping principles in mind as we design, install, and manage our landscapes can help conserve a great deal of water. Though the heat of the summer is not the best time to install and irrigate new landscape plants, it is a good time to make plans for the fall when temperatures cool and less water is needed for irrigation. Consider these principles from the USU Extension Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping.
1. Planning and design. Develop a landscape plan, paying attention to sun, shade, soil conditions, slope, etc., then determine where plants should be placed for both function and aesthetics. For example, deciduous trees can be planted to increase summer shade as well as winter sun.
2. Soil preparation. Proper soil preparation improves plant water use efficiency in the future. Consider soil texture, structure, organic matter content, nutrient status, and pH when choosing plants. Soil can be tested at the Utah State University Soil Testing Laboratory.
3. Plant selection. Choose plants for the size and function of the area. Consider irrigation requirements, adaptability, bloom-time offsetting, mature plant size, and climate hardiness zones.
4. Practical turf areas. Plant grasses where they are functional. Choose species and varieties with lower water requirements and mow to a height of 2 ½ or 3 inches for deeper rooting. Properly fertilize to improve drought tolerance and recovery, and don’t gather grass clippings when mowing.
5. Mulch. Cover bare soil with mulch to prevent crusting, compaction, and evaporation of moisture. Organic mulches include wood or bark chips, nut shells, pine needles, etc. Inorganic options include gravel or crushed stone, lava rock, and cobblestones.
6. Efficient irrigation. Hydrozone or group plants with similar water requirements in the same irrigation zone(s). Use drip irrigation systems to apply water directly to plant roots. Water trees and shrubs less frequently than grass areas, but for longer periods of time.
7. Landscape maintenance. Control weeds, fertilize regularly, and control plant growth through pruning. Also monitor for and control damaging diseases and pests. Visit Utah Pests for tips.
For further landscaping tips, visit seven principles for water-wise landscaping.
By: Kelly Kopp, Utah State University Extension turfgrass specialist, Kelly.Kopp@usu.edu