The Garden Patch: Save it for a rainy day

It’s that time of year – let’s talk about water conservation around home (in the lawn and garden). Here goes …

It has been estimated that nearly 50 percent of the water used by the average household goes for outside turf and landscape areas. Can you believe that? 50 percent? Any improvements that homeowners make to conserve water in the home landscape can result in significant savings.

Reducing outdoor water use doesn’t mean replacing lawns and trees with plastic and gravel, or turning flower beds into cactus gardens. Water-conserving landscapes don’t have to look any different or cost any more than water wasting ones. A well thought out design, along with soil improvement, careful watering, use of mulches and proper selection of plants can make a big difference in your water usage.

Even when water is in ample supply, reducing water use is a good idea. It lessens the demand on rural and municipal water supplies and treatment plants. It can greatly decrease your maintenance time and equipment costs. Also, a landscape with a record of low water bills may add to the resale value of your home! Here’s how…

Make a plan

Plans can be simple or elaborate, but every plan should take into consideration the factors that affect water use. Steep slopes or grades encourage water runoff and soil erosion. Drought tolerant ground covers, shrubs or trees can be used to slow down or absorb water while at the same time reduce evaporation by shading the soil. Terracing with appropriate plants is another possibility.

082614-WATER-CANISTER-01South and west-facing exposures receive maximum sunlight and can benefit from the use of mulches or drought tolerant plants. Wind increases the amount of plant moisture lost through transpiration. Fences and screens can greatly reduce the amount of supplemental water needed by slowing or blocking the wind (in Kansas?). Using trees and shrubs as windbreaks can be effective, but unless they are low water use varieties they may use more water than they save.

If you’re thinking trees, you’re on the right track, but certain trees such as maples and beeches have surface feeding roots and you would be defeating your purpose as they would steal (borrow) water and nutrients.

Turfgrass areas usually require the most water and maintenance of any part of a landscape. So … limit turf to those areas with high use or high visibility.

Design your turf areas so they can be watered efficiently. Odd shapes or long, narrow strips less than 8 feet wide will result in wasted water. Group plants by water use. Avoid placing trees or shrubs in the middle of turf areas.

Improve the soil

Of all the improvements that can be made to soil to help conserve water, adding organic matter is by far the most important. A soil test will determine the present organic matter level of your soil. All soil types found in Kansas can greatly benefit from the addition of organic matter. In heavy clay soils (like a lot of ours), the addition of organic matter increases infiltration of moisture, which prevents runoff and wasted water.

Since organic matter continually decomposes, it needs to be replenished on a yearly basis. Applying an organic type of mulch is the most effective way to accomplish this.

Here’s a list of types of organic matter that you might consider for your garden area:

  • Straw
  • Well-rotted manure
  • Leaf mulch
  • Peat moss
  • Lawn clippings
  • Compost
  • Well-rotted sawdust
  • Wood chips
  • Shredded bark
  • Green manure

Choose appropriate quality plants

Shopping for plants is just like shopping for any other type of product. High dollar products don’t guarantee a great product, but cheap ones are rarely bargains.

Choose plants that take advantage of the unique features of your particular landscape or garden.

It is important to remember that “drought tolerant” DOES NOT mean “plant and forget”. Even those plants need regular watering.

Don’t forget maintenance

Maintenance is also important in the low water use landscape and garden. Plants that are already stressed by receiving minimal amounts of water are more susceptible to insects and diseases. Be sure to prune when necessary, fertilize and control insects and diseases as needed.

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OK! Stay tuned, ‘cause we’ll finish this discourse on water conservation next week! Good gardening, good luck and may the Garden Wizard watch over you and yours to bring you healthy growing and eating! Till next time!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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