WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- As the summer heats up, the garden hoses come out, and out and out and out. The result? We waste a tremendous amount of water in our yards. According to the EPA, one-third of all residential water is used to irrigate our landscapes. Half of that water is wasted due to evaporation, misdirected watering and over-watering.
The biggest water addict in our landscapes is the lawn. The EPA estimates that the average American lawn uses 20,000 gallons of water each year!
With climate change we can expect more extreme weather and that includes more frequent periods of drought. We need to start using water more carefully in our landscapes, and favor plants that are more drought-tolerant.
Here are some ways that can help you save water and still produce a great looking landscape:
- Put the right plant in the right place. Plant a moisture-loving plant in a dry spot and you will have to water it constantly to keep it going.
- Favor regional native plants that are well adapted to your landscape conditions. Have a dry, sunny spot? Butterflyweed, Blanket Flower and Prairie Smoke are just a few of the native plants that will do well for you in this region.
- Reduce or replace your thirsty lawn. A mini-meadow is a great alternative that will require far less water than turf grass, and has the added bonus of attracting butterflies, songbirds, and pollinating insects.
- Do your planting in the fall. The cool nights and warm days in fall are ideal for plant root establishment and less watering is needed. Most, but not all plants establish well in the fall. Broad-leaved evergreens, like Mountain Laurel, are better planted in the spring.
- Be realistic. Low maintenance does not mean no-maintenance, even with native plants. Make sure that any new plants are well irrigated during the first growing season. That means Mother Nature and you.
- Always water in the early morning. This allows plant foliage to dry off during the day, keeping fungal diseases at bay.
- If you have time, water new plants by hand. This enables you to water exactly where needed, and in the amount that is needed.
- If hand watering is not an option, choose drip irrigation instead of an overhead sprinkler. Sprinklers waste a great deal of water to evaporation and misdirected watering. Drip irrigation delivers water to plant roots – exactly where it should go.
- Don’t use a timer with an irrigation system. While convenient, timers often deliver water when it is not needed. Check your soil to see if watering is necessary before you turn on the faucet.
- To encourage root development, water deeply and infrequently. Brief, frequent watering has the opposite effect and keeps plant roots toward the surface of the soil – making them much more susceptible to drought.
- Capture the runoff from your roof with rain barrels. You will prevent storm water from flooding into the street and gain a supply of water for irrigation when you need it.
Follow these simple steps and you will save an enormous amount of water in your landscape. It’s a precious resource that we all depend upon.
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of Ecobeneficial.com When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.