Are you a summer water waster?
You may be shocked to realize that about half of the water used to maintain gardens and lawns is wasted. You could be a water waster and not even realize it. Unfortunately, we use a lot of water during the summer on our yards. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30 percent to 70 percent of the water consumed by America’s residential homes is used outdoors. And then summertime comes! Summertime lawn- and garden-watering can double or even quadruple your average household water usage compared to other times of the year.
Now, I know how important our yards are to us southerners. Our yards are extensions of our homes — essentially, our outdoor rooms. We garden in them, relax in them and entertain in them. We are lucky that in southeast Georgia, we can pretty much enjoy these “outdoor rooms” all year long.
But let’s get real: our well-intentioned but poor choices for maintaining our yards can make us serious water offenders! By taking care of our lawns and gardens properly, we can save money and time and protect the environment by conserving water use. We still can create a lovely, lush area to enjoy as an outdoor room, too.
Water-smart choices begin with a well-designed landscape and/or a well-planned garden, your plant choices and the ways and times you water and maintain your garden and/or landscape. Gone are the days where we set the oscillating sprinkler out after lunch and let it run all afternoon. That is not a water-smart choice.
These days, many places in the country enforce water restrictions or even have outright watering bans during summer. It really is time to be water smart whether we want to or not. Water is a precious resource.
Here are some wise ways you can cut your outdoor water usage this summer:
• Design your landscape using rain-garden principles so that the area will hold and channel rainfall where it’s needed. Naturalizing your landscape can have many benefits for you: less water usage and less maintenance needed. That can add up to fewer items on your “honey do” list.
• Consider replacing at least parts of your grass with easy-care, drought-tolerant ground covers, like thyme or ajuga.
• Aerating your lawn in the spring will help your lawn maintain moisture through the warmer months. Aerating again in the fall helps maintain that retention.
• Set your mower higher. Leave at least 3 inches of grass. The added height shades the ground, which slows evaporation, and the blades of grass will be healthier. Mowing shorter not only provides less protection for the soil, but it also allows quicker evaporation of water into the atmosphere.
• Take the clippings bag off your mower and allow the cut grass to settle back into the yard. Think of these clippings as a kind of mulch that helps hold soil moisture in the ground. The decaying grass also encourages beneficial microbes that will help keep your turf healthy.
• Heavily fertilized lawns require more water. If you must fertilize, do so in the fall. Or use compost; it will improve the soil’s water-holding ability while providing nutrition to your grass.
• Choose low-water-use plants. Native plants are great choices. Once established, they can often thrive just on rainfall.
• In your gardens, mulch between plants and rows to slow evaporation.
• Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation on beds. They can save 50 percent or more of water usage compared to sprinklers.
• Use an outdoor water timer. If possible, get one with a sensor that shuts down when it rains.
• Stop using sprinklers to water your garden. I know it may seem like the easiest way to do this, but much of the sprinkler water is lost to the breeze and evaporation.
• When soil is dry or compacted, it won’t absorb water well. If water puddles, stop watering for a while and then restart so the water has time to soak in.
• Water in the early morning. If you water at midday, much of the water just evaporates. Evening watering should be avoided because it can encourage the growth of mold or plant diseases.
• Water-hose and nozzle watering also can be wasteful. Nozzles with multiple settings and an on-off trigger are the most useful.
• Hand-water small gardens (or specific plants) with a watering can, if you are able. A watering can is perfect for applying water directly around the plant where it’s most needed, especially when you have plants in your garden that require different amounts of watering.
• Many garden vegetables and some bedding plants are best watered near the soil, keeping moisture off leaves, stems and blossoms where it may encourage fungus and other diseases as well as attract insects.
These ideas will save water, reduce your water bills and even reduce the amount of maintenance needed. But most important: You can hold your head high because you will not be a water waster!
For more information on greenscaping and xeriscaping, check out www.epa.gov and publications available from the Georgia Extension Services.