Digging in the Dirt – Welcome, Spring!

April 22, 2021

Water Your Landscape…

With Spring upon us, most of us are ready to stop hibernating in our houses and get out in the sunshine and warmth. Getting your yard ready to enjoy for the summer months is a good place to start. But where to begin? Let’s explore some great resources. 

The EPA reports that residential outdoor water use across the United States accounts for nearly 8 billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation. The average U.S. household uses more water outdoors than for showering and washing clothes combined. That’s Crazy! https://www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoors

So what can we do to help conserve water in our yards? First, before you turn on that garden hose, you need to make a PLAN. Choosing the right plants, supporting soil health, and proper maintenance are all keys to water-smart landscapes. The EPA offers The Water Sense-Water Smart Landscape guide to help you get started.

Let’s Talk Dirt

The right soil will help you make the most of the water you use. Nutrient-rich soils actually HOLD the moisture in the soil, so adding nutrients and organic matter (such as compost and worm castings) to your soil will help the dirt retain the moisture it receives.

Another great resource is to check with your local/state Cooperative Extension Offices to have your soil tested. Most state universities can provide excellent and affordable soil testing services, for a small fee (around $10). In most cases, you can request and pay online for a soil kit that will allow you to send back a sample of your soil for testing. You can get information about your soil’s pH and nutrient levels, along with advice on how to amend it for what you are planting.

Mulch Is So Important

Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulching is key to trapping the moisture in the soil. “Up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if you don’t have mulch as a protective layer on top. Mulch is one of the best moisture holding strategies you can employ. It prevents evaporation from the soil surface, helps suppress water-thieving weeds from growing and many mulches add vital nutrients to the soil at the same time. Avoid fine mulches that tend to clump and become water-repellent. Instead, use a coarser mulch which allows water/rain to move down through to the soil.”

Pick the Right Plants

Some plants need less water than others. “Species with low water needs will save you time and money in the garden. These include:

  • Established or slow growing plants;
  • Small plants;
  • Varieties with small or narrow leaves;
  • Grey or silver foliage; or
  • Leathery, hairy, curled or fuzzy leaves that typically require less moisture.” The Micro Gardener

Wherever you live, the EPA has a great resource to explore native plants available in your state. https://www.epa.gov/watersense/what-plant

Now Water Wisely!

  1. Don’t water unless it’s needed. This might seem obvious, but it’s a good reminder.
  2. Check the weather. If rain is forecast, you can put away that hose and turn off those sprinklers. Also, consider your climate, location and the season. The Micro Gardener
  3. Check your soil. Don’t water if your soil doesn’t need it. To check if you need to water or not, look at the soil about a spade-deep down. If it’s damp, it’s fine; if it’s dry, it’s time to water. The Guardian
  4. Never Over-Water. Over-watering not only wastes a valuable natural resource, but it can actually harm your plants. Over-watering causes plants to grow roots only near the surface, which makes them vulnerable to drought. Micro Gardener
  5. Mow High. Keeping your grass at the upper recommended limit (about 2 inches for most species) will help shade the soil and prevent excessive evaporation.” Love Your Landscape
  6. Water the soil, not the leaves. Water at the root zone to keep evaporation to a minimum. Keeping water off your plants’ leaves will also help control fungal diseases and prevent sunscald.” Love Your Landscape

All of these methods will help you use water wisely in your lawn and garden, so you can eliminate wasteful practices and enjoy the benefits of a beautiful, healthy landscape.