Your landscape expands your living space beyond four walls, is the pride and joy of the gardener in your family and is the perfect setting for get-togethers. But did you know that you can have a healthy landscape without needing extravagant supplemental watering?
An established lawn only needs about one inch of water every seven to ten days, and over watering can cause shallow root growth, which causes the grass to lose its ability to survive drought. In fact, more Georgia lawns were damaged from over-watering than from lack of water during recent droughts in Georgia. These overwatering habits contribute to the fact that 60 percent of all household water use during the summer months is used outdoors for landscape purposes.
Here are some waterSmart tips to keep your landscape healthy, beautiful and waterSmart:
- Fertilize less during droughts
- Use a fertilizer with nitrogen in a slow-release form, such as sulfur-coated urea, urea formaldehyde, IBDU (isobutylene-diurea) or methylene urea
- Check the application rate on the label - this rate is ideal when planting but should be reduced once plants are established
- Employ "grasscycling" - leave grass clippings on turfgrass at each mowing to supply the grass with recycled nutrients. However, be sure to break up or get rid of clumps.
- Choose plants that are native to your area, are drought resistant and thrive in your local environment. *Note - native plants will not always be the most drought resistant.
- Some examples of waterSmart plants include Carolina Jessamine, Confederate Jasmine, Crapemyrtle, Hydrangea, Japanese maple, Juniper, Lantana, Petunia, Verbena and Viburnum
- Design turf areas in practical shapes that can be mowed and irrigated easily. Avoid sharp angles and long, narrow strips.
- Plan for shade - a shaded landscape can be as much as 20º cooler than a landscape in full sun and preserves moisture. Arbors, trellis, and fences with vine covers can be effective sources of shade and help retain moisture.
- Place plants with high water requirements in areas that stay moist naturally, and low-water-need plants in drier areas.
- Proper mulch is the key to preventing water loss from your soil, reducing the need for supplemental irrigation and completing the overall attractiveness of your landscape
- Apply approximately two inches of mulch, or five inches of pine straw, under ornamental plants in the landscape (avoid applying too much mulch because it encourages shallow roots)
- Place newspapers on the soil under organic mulch at planting time to improve water conservation in the soil, thoroughly soak newspapers after applying mulch
- Extend mulched areas two to three times the canopy spread of ornamental trees and shrubs
- Once mulch is in place, use your hand to pull it back 3 inches from the trunk of trees and shrubs (this will help prevent stem rotting diseases)
- Don't add organic matter to individual planting holes for trees and shrubs. Organic matter encourages roots to stay in the hole instead of growing out.
- Raise your mower blade and cut grass higher to encourage deeper rooting, increase turf survival during drought and reduce water demand.
- Mow at the recommended height (see chart) and mow often enough that one-third of the leaf tissue is removed at each mowing
- Mow turf in shaded areas higher than turf in full sun
- Always keep the mower blades sharp - dull blades shred leaf tips, causing the turf to use more water
Mowing Heights for Turf grasses in Georgia
|Turf grass||Mowing Height (inches)|
|Centipede||1 to 1.5|
|Common Bermuda||1 to 2|
|Hybrid Bermuda||0.5 to 1.5|
|Tall Fescue||2 to 3|
|St. Augustine||2 to 3|
|Zoysia||0.5 to 1.5|
These tips are only to be used in compliance with your local water provider watering restrictions.
- Water at night or in the early morning hours from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. to maximize effectiveness and prevent water loss from evaporation in the heat of the day. Overnight watering will not damage turf grass. If you have an automatic irrigation system, set it to come on between these hours.
- In the case of drought damage, consider the replacement costs of the plants in your landscape. Save the most valuable plants by using rain barrels or saved water from around the home.
- Selectively hand-water trees and shrubs showing excessive signs of drought stress. If under complete water restrictions, prune back trees and shrubs by one-third to one-half if they become severely wilted
- Check your plants to see if they need watering:
- Shrubs will turn a gray-green color and wilt
- Trees show a premature fall color and shed leaves
- Turf grass turns a grey-green color and the blades wilt and roll inward
- Water slowly and deeply so the soil absorbs water 6" to 8" deep.
- When possible, use more efficient irrigations systems, such as a soaker hose, or drip irrigation.
- Use an automatic time controller and attach a rainfall sensor to turn off the irrigation system if significant rainfall has occurred.
- Only irrigate turf in high-impact, visible areas of the landscape.
- Relieve soil compaction to increase air and water movement into the soil by aerating when required - especially on slopes
- Rent a power aerator and aerate during periods of active plant growth and when the soil is moist
- Place rain barrels under downspouts to collect water that can be used to hydrate your landscape without turning on a faucet.
- Be sure to place screens over your rain barrel to keep out debris such as pine needles and leaves.
- Utilize "mosquito dunks," which are donut shaped larvicide tablets, to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
- Install cisterns to collect storm water that can be used in times of drought, much like a rain barrel.