Water Conservation: Tips for Outdoors

Water is a valuable and limited resource. Learn how you can help to conserve water outside. 

Protect your trees from drought

When watering your lawn and other plants, don’t overlook the trees in your yard. Trees are a valuable investment and take years to reach their full maturity and beauty. Also, the added comfort from shade during the long, hot summer months can help save money on your utility bills.

On the other hand, having a dead tree removed from your property could easily cost $500. But trees don’t have to die. Something as simple as a little watering can make a big difference. It takes trees months to recover from one moderate drought. As the environment becomes harsher and more damaging, trees actively struggle to conserve water and survive. This struggle can be permanently damaging.

How and when to water trees
Spring is the time to start watering trees because they have started to grow new leaves. Typically, the best technique for watering trees is concentrate watering from the base of the trunk to about three feet out. Make sure trees get 1 to 3 inches of water each week. A deep, soil-soaking watering once a week works best. Most trees roots grow in the top 12 inches of soil, so that is the area you need to wet.

Drought stress in trees
Rarely does Mother Nature supply the “perfect” amount of water for perfect tree growth. Inadequate water in the soil for trees’ essential biological and physical functions creates a state that is called “drought stress.” As water becomes harder for the tree to collect, the tension on the leaves becomes greater. The browned leaves beneath a tree in summer is a visible sign of “drought stress.” Even if rain comes in abundant supply, once the leaves are off the tree, the damage has already been done — both above and below ground.

Watering the lawn – made easy!
The key to successful watering is to train your plants and grass to use as little water as possible and remain green and growing. This is achieved by developing plants and grasses with deep roots. The most common mistake in lawn care is watering too much. Most plants in your landscape, once they are established, can go days or even weeks without irrigation. If you can walk through your grass and see your footprints, it is a sign that the grass needs water.

Watering Tips:

  • When watering grass, one-inch of water per week is a good rule of thumb.
  • The best time to water is early in the morning.
  • As much as 30% of water applied during the heat of the day can be lost to evaporation.
  • Make sure you adjust your sprinklers so that sidewalks and streets are not being watered.
  • Set the timer on your sprinkler so that no more than one-inch of water is applied to grass once a week.
  • If you have an automatic sprinkler system, invest in a water sensor to prevent over-watering and watering during a rain shower.
  • For plant beds, apply water using a hand-held hose, drip trickle irrigation, micro-sprinklers or a soaker hose.
  • Do-it-yourself drip irrigation systems, available from most garden centers, use 30 to 50% less water than sprinklers.

Mulch holds moisture in the soil, helps prevent weeds, inhibits certain soil-borne diseases, and insulates roots against extremes in temperature. The best mulch is organic, fine-textured and non-matting, such as pine needles or pine straw, pine bark mini-nuggets, hardwood chips and cypress shavings. Fall leaves make an excellent (and free!) mulch that adds valuable humus back to the soil as it decomposes. Organic mulches, such as pine straw or pine bark, break down and decompose over time and should be replenished at least once a year. Use landscape fabric under mulch to allow water, nutrients and oxygen to reach the roots of plants and prevent growth of weeds.

Click here for a list of drought-tolerant plants, grasses, vines, bulbs, shrubs and trees. Additional information may be obtained at the Whitfield County Extension Office, located at 420 N. Hamilton St.

A xeriscape is a landscape that conserves water and protects the environment. A xeriscape plan divides your landscape into usage areas and water-use “zones” — high (regular watering), moderate (occasional watering) and low (natural rainfall). There may be several of these zones within an individual landscape.

High water use zones are the small areas that are highly visible around a patio, front door, street frontage, etc., in which you might place flowers and plants that require regular watering in the absence of rainfall.

Moderate water use zones utilize established plants that are watered only as needed. Good plants for moderate water use zones include azalea, dogwood, redbud, Japanese maple and many herbaceous perennials.

Low water use zones include plants that are watered by natural rainfall and would not be irrigated. For greatest water conservation, design as much of your landscape as possible into low water-use zones. Most people are surprised to learn that the majority of our woody ornamental trees and shrubs, turf grasses, some herbaceous perennials and even some annuals (like vinca and verbena) grow well in low water-use zones without irrigation once they are established.

One exception to the water zone rule is newly planted ornamental plants and turf grasses. These plants require regular irrigation during the establishment period (8 to 10 weeks after planting), regardless of their intended water-use zone.