When I first moved to Erda, I loved to go out on my back porch and look out over the fields toward the lake. In the spring I saw green after green after green, in varying shades as seeds sprouted and dormant plants woke up and began to grow. It was a welcome sight after the cold, snow and mud of winter. I can no longer enjoy that view from my porch. The trees we planted have grown well, but the view is still lovely from an upper window.
At the moment, growing things have been well-watered care of Mother Nature. However, the history of our climate tells us that the trend will not continue. Through the winter we have been provided with stores of snow that we will need to rely on as the summer gets hotter.
Although water is plentiful at the moment, conservation will be needed to make it last through the summer. Start now before summer begins in earnest. Your plants will be prepared for hotter, drier weather later. It is worth making the effort in order to enjoy a beautiful landscape and bountiful garden.
Growing plants in a desert environment serves more than aesthetic purposes. Properly placed plants can reduce energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.
For example, well-placed plants serve as a barrier against the wind and winter cold and provide shade and cooling during the summer months. Plants placed on the west or south sides of buildings provide shade for walls, parking lots and windows. Ample shade can cool temperatures as much as eight degrees — even indoors.
Actively growing turfgrass will reduce surface temperatures by 30 to 40 degrees when compared to bare soil, and by as much as 70 degrees when compared to surfaces like cement, asphalt or stones.
Anyone can grow a lush landscape with ample rainfall and good growing conditions, but when the responsibility for providing the correct amount of water for healthy plant growth using a finite supply of water, it is up to us to use our heads and gardening skills.
As a group, Utah residents have done pretty well. Water conservation has always been a theme here and during the past dry years, per capita use throughout the state has dropped by 12 percent — the third greatest reduction in the nation. All of us can do our part and the time to begin is now.
All plants need water, but lawns tend to get more than any other area and much more than is actually needed. On average, landscapes receive twice the amount of water required annually for good health. True, the water must be applied judiciously for optimum advantage.
Begin by getting your sprinkling system running properly. Check and fix broken or bent sprinkler heads. Set your watering clocks to water only as much and as often as is actually needed. That amount will change over the course of the summer.
To determine the amount of water your lawn needs, keep an eye on it. Water should penetrate the soil about 6 to 8 inches. That is as far as healthy lawn roots extend into the soil, so water that seeps deeper is wasted. Test the moisture depth of the soil by inserting a long screwdriver or other probe. When it reaches dry soil, it will not glide as freely.
Apply enough water to penetrate that depth and then wait until it is needed before watering again. As with all plants, deep watering encourages deep root growth that will support the plants when the sun gets very hot. Shallow, frequent watering may keep lawns looking good but it encourages shallow, weak roots and to keep the lawn healthy, it must be watered much more often. When the sun adds extra stress, the shallow roots cannot take up water fast enough to supply the top, which loses water to transpiration. When you are away, the lawn will suffer and wilt very easily.
Watch your lawn to determine when to water. It will gradually change shades as water is required. If you can walk across your lawn and look back to see indentations where you stepped, it is time to turn on the water.
Cut grass 2 1/2 inches to 3 inches tall. Don’t worry about longer grass looking unkempt. It won’t if it is cut evenly. Mow often enough that you remove only a third of the length of the grass blade at a time. The roots of any plant are supported by photosynthesis in the leaves. Shorter grass has less leaf surface to provide support for the roots.
As you plan to nurture your garden this summer, consider the following summary of guidelines to help strengthen plants and conserve water.
Shallow watering is like putting plants on life support. Condition plants for dry weather from the beginning of the season by irrigating less frequently but longer at a time. Do this before the really hot weather hits to develop deep root systems that will be more drought-tolerant.
There is a need to water lightly and frequently as seeds are planted and plants are first set out to help them establish a good root system. Gradually moving to deeper, infrequent watering is the goal to encourage roots to extend deeper to find moisture. Deeper roots can provide the needed support to the top of the plant as the weather gets hot.
Group plants according to water needs
Water is typically applied to support the thirstiest plants. If one or two plants in a bed begin to wilt, the entire bed typically receives a good watering. Place thirsty plants together and make a place for water-thrifty plants and then water them according to need.
Use mulches freely
Use mulches freely in the garden to prevent evaporation from the soil surface, and to help control weeds. Compost bark, shavings, sawdust and many other types of mulch are excellent for this purpose.
Keep weeds down
Weeds are a major cause of water loss from the landscape and often consume more water than the landscape plants.
Apply water only where needed
Drip irrigation puts water exactly where it is needed, right on the soil. Little or no water is lost to evaporation. As an additional benefit, the space between the rows is not dampened so it is not conducive to weed growth.
Pay careful attention to turfgrass areas
These areas should be well managed with adequate fertility. Aerate turf areas frequently to improve water penetration. This is particularly important on slopes and other hard to cover areas.
Water during the early morning hours or during the night when temperatures are lowest and winds are generally less intense. This reduces the amount of water loss to evaporation.
Check sprinklers frequently
Application times and amounts should be carefully monitored to avoid run off. Make sure sprinkler heads are directed to growing areas and not sidewalks, streets and surfaced areas.
In the heat of the summer, add approximately 2 to 2 1/2 inches of water to the soil each week. Measure the amount of water released by sprinklers. Place tall, straight sided cans at various spots in the area covered. Check each half hour to see how much water has collected in the cans. Add up the amounts, and divide by the number of cans to get the average output. Use this information to determine how long to leave sprinklers on to get the needed water quantity.
Over-application of water not only wastes this precious natural resource, but also does a great deal of damage to the plants by increasing problems with root rot and fungal diseases.
Consider using drought-tolerant plants
They offer great possibilities for water conservation. Group these plants together in low use areas and areas that are hard to maintain. These plants will naturalize and need little care.
Mow lawns to a height of about 2 1/2 to 3 inches
Longer grass blades shade the soil keeping weeds down, keeping soil moisture from evaporating, and most importantly provide the nutrients needed for deep, healthy root development.