You can maintain a beautiful yard and still save money on water

There’s been a lot of news and talk about the dry year we’re having and saving water. It seems like I’m hearing different recommendations from everyone, and I’m getting confused and a bit frustrated.

I hear about “zeroscaping” being a good way to save water, but I don’t want a bunch of gravel and cactus in my yard. Besides, the yard is in and I’m at the age where I don’t want to start all over with a new one with all that work and money. Can I use less water and not lose my yard?

— Arthur

This is really a good question to be asking right now. There is so much confusion and misunderstanding out there about watering. Anyway, the short simple, answer to your question is “yes.” The details might take a bit of explaining.

The first thing is that the concept of developing a landscape that uses less water is called xeriscaping (it’s pronounced “zeri-scaping”, hence the confusion), which is from the Greek word “xeros” meaning dry.

The second thing to understand is that xeriscaping doesn’t mean acres of hot, sterile gravel spotted occasionally with clumps of cactus. You can have a beautiful yard filled with color and texture and even some lawn while saving substantially on the amount of water needed to keep it all looking good.

A true xeriscape takes seven principles and applies them to the design, construction and maintenance of the landscape. I’ll talk more about them specifically later, but since I know you’re not looking to completely re-do your yard, let me talk to you about some things anyone can do with an existing landscape to save water.

The first thing is to make sure that you’re watering your landscape properly. We always encourage people to water deeply but infrequently. Seems like that’s all I’ve been talking about for the past couple of weeks so I won’t belabor that point, but do some digging around to make sure that part of the plant’s care is good.

Most people find out when they do this that they don’t need to water as much as they have been, saving a surprisingly amount of water.

Another thing that you can do that can make a huge difference in how much water you use is to mulch your plants. A mulch is simply a layer of “stuff” on top of the ground under and around your plants.

The mulch will help conserve water so you won’t have to water as often, but it will also help prevent weeds from sprouting and help moderate soil temperatures. It all adds up to happier, healthier plants plus less work for you. What could be bad about that?

There are a lot of different materials that can be used as mulch with wood and bark chips, gravels and composts being the most common. There are some pros and cons to each, but just make sure that you have a layer 2 1/2–3 inches deep.

If you already have some mulch in your beds, check to see that it is deep enough. It’s common for mulches to thin out over time and need some occasional “beefing up.”

Another thing to do is to improve the soil in your yard. I’m not saying to dig up your plants and completely redo the soil, but carefully scratching some decomposed organic matter into the soil in spots around your existing plants can help. And of course any place you’re doing some new planting you should take advantage of the opportunity to improve the soil.

Loose, well-drained soil will encourage your plants to develop a deep, drought-tolerant root system that will result in water savings.

Lastly, keep up with maintenance, especially sprinkler maintenance, in the yard. Make sure there are no broken heads or missing nozzles. Check sprinklers or drip emitters to make sure they haven’t become plugged up with debris over time. See if any heads aren’t spraying into the area you intended and turn them so they’re spraying in the right direction. Make sure the spray isn’t being blocked by plants that have grown up since the system was installed.

It’s funny how many little things can crop up that can ruin the efficiency of your sprinkler system.

Double check the frequency and run times of your sprinkler controller, if you have one. These things need to be adjusted in response to the weather through the growing season.

Next week, I’ll try to give a quick overview of the seven principles of xeriscaping.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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