Thursday, July 9, 2009

LEARN: Landscaping in water-tapped areas

Many areas of the West, and some places in the Southeast, have been undergoing water shortages. With climate change already underway and many underground water sources already tapped, it is inevitable that less water will be the norm in the foreseeable future. As a result, you may already be experiencing water restrictions in your area and may be wondering what you can do to save your landscape -- which has likely been used to more regular watering.

In my book, The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green, I offer more extensive education and ideas for helping to conserve water -- both for the home and garden. It is a handy resource for you. But to get you started, you might consider these beginning tips:
  • Install drip irrigation -- consider changing out your watering to drip irrigation wherever possible. This will waste less water. Areas where you have bushes and trees are some of the best spots for installing drip systems, as well as gardens.

  • Go native -- little by little change our your landscape to include more native plants. Sometimes you have to do a little research to find out what is native and what is not because importation of plants from other states and countries is now the norm. But native landscape will better withstand drier weather.

  • Xeriscape -- plant less grass and more of other plants that can be more drought tolerant. Even most heat-hardy grasses still needs more watering than drought-tolerant bushes and trees. So, put grass down only where you need it. Some drought-tolerant, low-level groundcovers can look like grass and even be cut like grass, so this is another possibility as well.

  • Plant trees -- There is nothing like trees in your landscape to lower surrounding outdoor temperatures, give partial shade to plants and the soil, and add beauty to your landscape. Water your trees deeply instead of superficially, and they will withstand periods of drought more easily.

  • Amend your soil -- I recommend you have a compost. You can add this compost material to your landscape soil, once or twice a year, to help the soil retain moisture and enrich its health.

Some people may consider synthetic grass to save on water, pesticides, and fertilizers -- and I mentioned this in my book as a tremendous water saver with environmental benefits and tradeoffs. But since then I have reconsidered the extent to which these new-generation artificial grass products should be used, even if the company states they are made with recycled materials and will take back the product for recycling. This is because birds and other animals cannot access food in the dirt below, artificial grass has a tendency to intensify heat, and there are other environmental and health concerns that I now believe outweigh most the initial benefits (like significant water conservation) that people would have bought into.

So, I recommend you only consider artificial turf for specific situations and used in small quantities. Possible examples are an enclosed dog run, a situation where you need to reduce allergens for people who are highly allergic or have severe respiratory issues, or an outdoor area of an elderly person's home when the person cannot maintain natural grass (though, even in that case you might just use low-maintenance bushes and trees instead).

There is a debate over if synthetic turf should be used for high traffic areas -- like a sports field or daycare center -- I would say no based upon new 2009 research by the University of Arkansas. The University found that natural grass is cheaper, more easily renewed, much cooler, safer (due to less heat injuries, less chance of contracting disease from the grass), filters water and air pollutants, releases oxygen into the air, and it captures carbon dioxide.

If you don't want natural grass or can't support natural grass with water restrictions, you may consider not having any grass at all in your landscape, instead just landscape with a variety of trees, bushes, and naturally occurring plants and flowers that are specific to your area. And add compost to your soil so that it retains moisture longer.

This may require you to look at landscape in a different way -- my family and I were reminded of this when we visited the Piedras Blancas Light Station along the Central Coast of California this summer -- they have been undergoing an extensive plant restoration project to renew the area with native plants. And I have to say that the areas where native plants are now growing tends to be the most beautiful and biodiverse.

1 comment:

Eric Eckl said...

This is a great water blog!

Alas, water restrictions aren't just something for the desert southwest anymore. Georgia and the Carolinas have been under a brutal drought for many years (now over, in a rather abrupt and tragic fashion).

It's helpful that you tell your readers how to engage in more eco-friendly lawncare, but it's also helpful to encourage them -- tell them how much water they can save if they do, and what a big difference it makes, maybe cite an example of some other homeowner who did it and how great it turned out.

Good luck!