Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sustainable way to have a garden and water it too

With summer upon us here in Texas, we have noticed sprinkers watering the lawn and garden beds. Living in a conventional neighborhood requires such evils.

In Texas, our summers switch quickly from hot and humid to hot, dry, and scorching, sometimes within hours. Most of the plants that you see in suburban front yards are subtropicals that stay green during our summers as long as they stay watered, like crepe myrtles, St. Augustine grass, sago palms, and hibiscus. These are fine for show pieces, but whole yards of these types of water guzzlers can really take a toll on your water bill.

Instead, try seeding an area with a ground cover that doesn't require a lot of water, like sedums, bugle weed, or dichondra. In your flower beds, plant native texas plants that use less water and improve the native wildlife, like milkweed, gaura, gold lantanas, and salvias (sages).

The orange milkweed below does well in more humid areas, like Houston. The white antelope version does well in dry alkaline soils, like those found in the hill country.

Here's a tip that will save you water and will save you a lot of work. Adjust your lawn mower so that the blade is 3-4 inches from the soil. This is will cut only the tips of the grass. This will eliminate the stress of regrowth, actually making the whole lawn healthier. Plus, it will grow slower and stay greener. Pushing the mower will be a lot easier, and you may even be able to go longer between cuts.

Another option for watering is drippers or soakers. These systems put water exactly where it is needed, so you can customize how much water for each bed, plant, or area. These systems also distribute water slowly so that it has a chance to soak into the ground rather than run off. This is great for our clay based soil here in houston. Most plants, even the water guzzlers, are healthier if they have a deep soaking once a week rather than regular waterings. This is because the deep soaking allows the roots to grow deeper into the soil where it can reach water reserves even on those really hot scorching days.

If you have an installed sprinker systems, you can easily convert the system to a drip system. We did this in our backyard with great results. If you are not familiar with the parts you will need or with the tools, there are many landscape professionals that will gladly do the conversion for you.

If you like to water with a hose attachment, just purchase a soaker hose, attach it to your existing hose and move it where you like it.

Now, I'll tell you my best secret for having a great lawn, interesting flower beds, and a low water bill - less lawn. I converted most of my yard into flower beds that are covered in mulch. Some areas around our deck are covered in river rock. I think of the lawn as a ground cover for walkways. I left the most lawn between the flower beds in my front yard and the sidewalk.

From a sustainable point of view, there are many ways to cut down on the amount of water we use for non-human consumption, but these are simple ways to start:
a) We can simplify our work by choosing plants that survive in our area and mowing only the tips of lawn grass.
b) We can eliminate or reduce plants that guzzle water.
c) We can cut water costs by watering slowly to allow the water to penetrate soils to deep roots.