Getting Started with
first thing to do is devise a plan for your garden in which you
group plants with similar water requirements. This is called "hydrozoning."
Pay attention to their similar light requirements, too. Decide
what areas of your garden are drier and which stay moist longer,
and move plants to these different areas according to their
needs. You could also place the plants that need the most water
closest to your house, wherever you spend the most time
outdoors. Moderate-water-use plants could be in a middle zone,
with plants that need very little, if any, supplemental water
beyond that. Remember, though, that during times of severe
drought they, too, will need some water. You’ll also need to
water new plants for at least a season until they are
established. (Becoming “established” means they have grown a
sturdy and deep root system.)
You might have three separate
zones in your system, which could consist of soaker hoses or
drip irrigation. Both water slowly so the water soaks in versus
evaporating or running off. The soaker hoses can be covered
with mulch. Oscillating sprinklers are inefficient, as much is
lost to evaporation. If you hand-water, use a watering wand,
water the base of the plant, and water early in the morning to
reduce evaporation and lessen the chance of fungal disease.
Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root systems and
water only after testing to see if the top few inches of soil
are two you’ve heard before: Amend your soil and mulch your
plants. Work in a few inches of compost to loosen up the clay
and increase the soil’s water-holding capacity. Organic mulch,
such as shredded bark, should be applied to a depth of two or
three inches. Mulch keeps the soil cool and helps hold in
Another xeriscape principle is reducing lawn area or finding
alternatives to turf. While green grass is nice to play on and
gives a cool look to the landscape, it requires a lot of water
to keep it really green all summer. A little research into
different varieties of turf grass and their water requirements
will uncover what you might want for your purposes. You could
just let the grass go dormant in the hottest part of the year
and anticipate its greening up when it rains again in the fall.
Groundcovers and shade trees are good replacements for some of
your lawn, though, and can be watered with an irrigation system.
consider your plants. The right plant for the right place is
the mantra here, as it is in any sustainable landscape. Buy
plants that fit the conditions in your yard (the various
microclimates), not the other way around. Putting plants that
like “wet feet” in a dry area of your yard stresses them, so
they would require a lot of watering. Plant fewer annuals
because they usually need lots of water and only live for one
season. If you want exotic plants, put a few in containers in
your high-water-use area for that tropical look around your
Dry area along the street during a hot summer
native plants is an excellent water-saving choice; they have
adapted to the amount of rainfall and other local weather
conditions, and therefore won’t require much water, after
they’re established. The key is to supply them with enough
water for the first summer or two so their roots grow long and
strong; then you can almost leave them to their own devices.
However, check the plant tag, because some native plants do
prefer wet areas. If you don’t want to mess with the three-zone
method, plant all drought-tolerant natives and really reduce
your watering chores. Your local pollinators will thank you,
too! For a list of drought tolerant plants visit the Penn
State Extension Website.
Maintenance is the final principle and depends on your overall
design. Even with reduced watering, you will still need to
prune, clean up dead leaves, weed, and watch for pests. Also
important is checking your irrigation system for leaky hoses and
readjusting timers, for when the seasons change.
reduce watering needs for container plants, use plastic
containers or at least plastic liners in porous containers.
Group containers together so they shelter each other and you can
water them all at once.
your plants healthy so they can withstand a little drought
stress now and then; use a rain gauge to determine how much
water they’re getting naturally and adjust your watering
schedule accordingly; and pull those weeds whenever you see them
(they like water, too). Don’t let trees and shrubs become
overgrown; more plant material needs more water, so keep up with
some or all of these ideas for reducing water requirements in
your garden should give you more time to enjoy it, and with the
money you save on your water bills, you can buy more plants!
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