Garden Help Desk: With careful watering, landscaping can remain healthy | Home and Garden
You heard about the drought, didn’t you? Intermountain West is in the middle of a long, difficult drought and we can’t keep telling ourselves that if we get just a little rain, things will get better. Landscape irrigation uses around 60% of our water supply in residential areas. If we make changes to the watering of our gardens now, it can make a real difference in how much water we’ll have this fall, next spring, and beyond. Some Utah County’s cities have more robust water supplies than others, and you may have different restrictions and options than your relatives who live only 10 miles away. No matter where we get our landscape water from, we need to make some changes. Our irrigation goal now should be to keep our landscaped plants alive, not to see them flourish.
Trees are the most valuable part of the landscape, the most expensive to replace, and the slowest to ripen, so trees should be the priority of irrigation during a drought. A deep soak approximately every two to three weeks is required. Bushes are next in line; like trees, they are not the backbone of a landscape, but they are still very important to our plants. Shrubs in mulch beds should be soaked deeply about every 10-14 days. Your flowers are the next thing to get your attention. If your flower beds are mulched, your flowers should be watered no more than every five to seven days. As a bonus, you’ll have fewer problems with slugs, slugs, and earwigs since you let things dry out between waterings. Always check the soil moisture and the condition of your trees, shrubs and flowers before watering; they do not consume water according to our calendars and may take longer between waterings.
Last on the list for water is your lawn. Grass is harder than you think. The average lawn in Utah receives much more water than it needs to look good and be healthy. Remember, a brown lawn doesn’t burn and brown doesn’t mean dead. A very infrequently watered lawn turns brown, but it doesn’t die, it just rests and waits for better conditions.
So what can you do to reduce water usage in your landscape and keep things as healthy as possible during a drought?
- Water everything in your landscape less often. Lawn is the hardest part of the infrequent watering because we pay so much attention to how it should look. In our district there are many healthy, good-looking lawns that have already been watered at most once or twice a week. These lawns have been “trained” to root deeper and stay longer between waterings. If you water three times a week or more, you can reduce the frequency to a maximum of twice a week. Your lawn won’t die; it will adapt and survive. If you have already watered once or twice a week, you can extend the watering interval by one to three additional days. You will see a tan from the extreme heat, but it will not affect the long-term health of your lawn. The exception to infrequent watering are high-yielding fruit trees and trees or shrubs that have been transplanted in the past few months. Fruit trees (just the trees, not the entire zone) must be watered about every seven to ten days until harvest. Recently transplanted trees and shrubs do not need daily watering, but they do need water about twice a week as they develop their new root systems. Only use drip irrigation, watering bags or a hose sprinkler twice a week for the area of the planting hole if the power is low. Don’t water an entire zone in your yard to water a new tree.
- Check your irrigation system carefully and make repairs or adjustments if necessary. The water wasted by malfunctioning sprinklers could have been used for our systems instead.
- Use drip irrigation in shrub beds, flower beds, and orchards.
- Mulch exposed soils. You want this precious moisture to leave the soil by rising through your plants rather than just getting into the air through evaporation. Remember that the drip lights should be under the mulch, not on top. Bark nuggets help retain moisture and cool the soil around trees, shrubs, and flowers. A half to 1 inch layer of compost in kitchen gardens does the same thing, but doesn’t need to be removed before planting the next season.
- Delay planting or moving trees and shrubs until conditions improve. Transplanting is stressful for plants. Extreme heat makes it even harder for them.
- Do not fertilize – no lawns, no trees, no flowers. Fertilizer promotes growth and we want our lawns, trees, shrubs and flowers to rest and survive for the time being.
- Use a mulching mower and drop clippings back into the lawn. This will help keep the soil cool and act as a mulch to reduce evaporation.
- Mow taller – 3 to 3 ½ inches tall. Taller leaves mean deeper, more drought tolerant roots. Taller leaves also shade the soil and keep it cooler.
- Do not mow your lawn when it is brown and dry.