Water is the essence of life – too little and we die, too much and we drown. The same is true for the plants and grasses in our gardens and lawns. While there is not much chance now of over-watering, almost all of the United States is concerned with how to water our properties conservatively and effectively, since much of the of the country remains gripped by drought. Persistent low rainfall coupled with a warm winter is meaning water restrictions in over 20 states.
Between December and February the mean temperature for the lower 48 states was the fifth lowest since records started being kept in the late 1800s. Rainfall was the lowest on record in the eastern states from Florida to Maine as drought spread as far west as Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.
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Fortunately, the drought problem is being looked at in a big way from government agencies to criminologists. There are lots of new tools, tips and training available which will help our half empty glass of water seem like more than enough.
It is best to check with local authorities about watering restrictions in your area, but unless there is a total ban imposed, it is still possible to plan and plant if you use some common sense approaches. With a little care and common sense to drought resistant landscaping, gardens and lawns can still look both pleasant and green.
According to one source, organic compost is the bottom line in helping conserve water and, yet, still have gorgeous plants. The source states that since water evaporates rapidly from containers, compost will act like a sponge and hold onto the water. The compost helps to keep the soil cooler on hot days, preventing evaporation of the much needed water.
Another way to prevent draining precious resources is to learn which plants grow best in the climate you live in. If you live in a naturally dry climate, maybe it is time to think about giving up that expansive lawn since in many parts of the country, half the water used by homeowners goes to maintaining their landscape.
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For those who have a taste, and the budget, for fancier gadgets, there is the Davis Instruments’ portable, solar-powered wireless Vantage Pro weather station. This tiny weather pro measures barometric pressure, inside and outside temperatures, humidity, heat index, dew point, rainfall, rain rate, wind direction and speed, and wind chill.
The battery-operated LCD console gives a detailed forecast message that shows whether unseasonable or unusual weather conditions are likely to occur. With this kind of detailed information coming right from your own backyard, you can accurately gauge how little or much water plants, lawn and flowers will need.
The most potentially effective tool, or the most dangerous, remains the garden hose. However, most people do not have the patience, time or “eye” to measure what is being applied across larger areas of lawn when using a hand-held hose and spray nozzle.
Although it can be irresistible to spray your neighbors dog, cat or kids with a garden hose, soaker hoses, which are laid along, or slightly buried in the ground, are growing in popularity because they do the job of watering properly.
These hoses have thousands of tiny holes, which allow water to seep slowly and deeply into the soil where it will encourage deep root growth and slow evaporation. Reasonably priced models can cost about $12 for a 25-ft. length of 5/8-in. diameter hose.
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Although drought restrictions vary from area to area, the following common sense practices can be widely applied and will help keep lawns and gardens drought free and looking their best:
- Water those plants needing it most. Newly planted trees, shrubs, and flowers with limited roots systems will most likely suffer first from drought conditions. Give these plants priority if water is scarce. Well-established plants, especially those native to your area, are likely to withstand drought conditions with limited damage.
- Water early in the morning before the day heats up. This limits evaporation and supplies plants with needed moisture to make it through the hot, sunny day. Also, plants grow during the day and will make best use of an early watering.
- Collect water from downspouts when it does rain. Roofs intercept significant amounts of rain. Collecting this runoff into a barrel can help limit the use of city or well water during dry spells.
- If you have an in-ground watering system, make sure it has regular maintenance to be most efficient. The “set it and forget it” philosophy usually fails to take into account changing seasonal water requirements. Also, if sprinklers are out of alignment you may be watering the sidewalk or street rather than the lawn.
For more information on water conservation and drought resistant landscaping tips, contact your local conservation district or the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Or call 1-888-LANDCARE (toll free) for a free Backyard Conservation booklet and tip sheets.