Water is one of our most valuable natural resources. Most of the time, however, we take it for granted and use it in abundance until drought sets in and we are forced to conserve. It seems that the High Country received plenty of precipitation this past winter, but drought can set in at any time unexpectedly. To protect our water supply from shortages, we should strive daily to conserve water instead of waiting until an emergency drought to conserve. This article introduces some basic ideas that will help you conserve water and protect the environment.
One area where water use can be decreased without sacrificing beauty or function is in landscaping. The term xeriscaping means landscaping for efficient water use. By using plants that are drought tolerant and by knowing what amount of water is right for your landscape and when to water, you can use much less water. A truly efficient way to use water in a yard is to design the yard so that it thrives predominantly on rainfall.
When planning your landscape, divide the area into low, moderate, and high water-use zones. Water should be applied to meet the needs of the plants in each of your zones. Incorporate as many of the natural elements of the site into the design as possible. Shade can hold more moisture than full sun areas, so it can make the landscape more water efficient. Older, established plants should be watered less often than young or new plants.
An established plant refers to the time it takes for roots of newly planted plants to spread outside the root ball into existing soil. During this time plants need 1 inch of watering or rainfall per week. Perennials and shrubs may take up to 12 weeks to establish, while trees could take up to two seasons. Initially, water should be applied to the root ball. As the roots mature, the water should be applied at the canopy drip line.
Many of us have lawns that require maintenance to continue looking nice. To keep your lawn healthy and require less maintenance, let your grass grow higher. The higher the grass blade can grow, the more extensive the root system will be, and the lawn will be healthier. When the roots are able to grow deeper, the lawn becomes more drought tolerant and requires less fertilization. Raise the mowing height, and mow often enough that no more than one-third of the leaf tissue is removed. Keep the mower blade sharp; a dull blade causes more plant water loss and undue stress.
When water is scarce, avoid unnecessary plant stress and seriously minimize fertilization. Many fertilizers are chemical salts and may damage roots and prevent water absorption. Fertilizers also stimulate new growth, which increases demand for water. Pruning also stimulates new growth and should be avoided during water shortages.
Different plants show different drought-related symptoms. The leaves of some plants may exhibit marginal leaf burn, whereas others simply wilt. Some daily wilting is normal during hot summer days, but prolonged drought conditions can cause continuous wilting. For trees and shrubs, wilting is one of the first signs of drought stress.
Certain plants in the landscape wilt readily and can be used as early indicators of drought stress. Plants to watch for signals that it is time to water include azaleas, dogwoods, hydrangeas, most annuals, herbaceous perennials, and turfgrass. The first symptoms of moisture stress in turfgrass are a dull grey-green color and leaf blade folding or rolling. It is most effective and efficient to wait for these symptoms of stress before irrigating.
Some drought tolerant plants that thrive in the High Country include; Tulip poplar- Liriodendron tulipfera, Sycamore- Platanus occidentalis, Laurel oak- Quercus laurifolia, Live oak- Quercus virginiana, Pin oak- Quercus palustris, White oak- Quercus alba, Hollies- Ilex spp., Chaste tree- Vitex agnus-castus, Sweet gum- Liquidambar styraciflua, Yaupon holly Ilex vomitoria, Strawberry bushEuonymus Americana, Forsythia Forsythia intermedia, Viburnum Viburnum spp., Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia spp., Coreopsis- Coreopsis spp., Cosmos- Cosmos spp., Butterfly weed- Asclepias tuberosa, Gaillardia- Gaillardia x grandiflora, Goldenrod- Solidago, Blazing Star- Liatris spp., Purple coneflower- Echineacea prurpurea, Stokes' aster- Stokesia cyanea.
Information from this article is found in the following articles:
How to Plan and Design a Water-Wise Landscape, http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/wqwm/ag508_2.html
Water Wise Use in Landscaping, http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/programs/extension/publicat/wqwm/ag508_1.html
The Carolina Yardstick Workbook is a great resource to think about the functionality of your yard. http://www.clemson.edu/extension/natural_resources/water/carolina_yards/carolina_yardstick.pdf#Download the PDF version.