Originally created 04/21/00

Xeriscaping saves water



With drought expected to continue into the summer, it may be a good time to try a xeriscape landscape.

Xeriscaping means developing a water-wise landscape. As we have seen the past two summers, water conservation is important. During the summer, 40 percent to 60 percent of all household water is used outdoors, and most of that water goes on the landscape.

Unfortunately, much of the water used outdoors is wasted by people who are either unconcerned about water shortages or are uninformed about water conservation.

Many people simply don't know how to water lawns and plants properly, or are unaware of cultural practices for conserving water or water requirements of Southern ornamental plants.

Xeriscape landscaping is a package of seven common-sense steps for making a landscape more water efficient: planning and design; soil analysis; appropriate plant selection; practical turf areas; efficient irrigation; use of mulches; and appropriate maintenance.

Each of these steps is a good gardening practice. However, the more of them you implement, the more water-efficient your landscape becomes. A xeriscape landscape can reduce outdoor water consumption by as much as 50 percent without sacrificing the quality and beauty of your lawn.

It is also an environmentally sound landscape requiring less fertilizer and fewer chemicals. Here are some tips on xeriscaping:

PLANNING AND DESIGN: Whether on paper or with a computer landscape program, begin with a base map and put in all existing plants and structures. Then arrange what you want to plant. Take into consideration the orientation to the sun. It is best to group plants into zones based on their water needs. Have high, medium and low water-use zones.

SOIL ANALYSIS: Soils vary greatly in the Augusta area. Some have a lot of clay; others are sandy. Using soil amendments like compost can enhance the health and growing capability of plants. Remember that sand drains faster than clay.

APPROPRIATE PLANT SELECTION: This is one of the most important steps to create a water-efficient landscape. Plants should be appropriate to the site and adaptable to environmental stresses.

PRACTICAL TURF AREAS: Turf grass requires regular irrigation throughout the summer to look its best. Reducing the size of turf areas saves a lot of water. Turf should be located where it has a purpose or function. In most cases your yard will look more aesthetically pleasing if you break up large expanses of turf.

EFFICIENT IRRIGATION: This is one of the most direct ways of conserving water. When irrigation is used, it should meet the needs of the plants being watered and should operate efficiently and effectively at all times. Drip irrigation will be more efficient than sprinkler irrigation.

MULCHES: Mulch is a vital component of a water- efficient landscape. Mulches conserve water and help prevent weeds that compete with plants for moisture.

APPROPRIATE MAINTENANCE: Raise the mowing height during droughts and mow often enough that no more than one-third of the leaf tissue is removed. Do not shear most shrubbery. Shearing stimulates new growth, which has a high water demand. Prune by selective trimming.

Fertilize less during droughts and use low-nitrogen or slow-release nitrogen products. High-nitrogen fertilizer stimulates new growth, which increases demand.

You can pick up a brochure on xeriscaping at your local Extension office. It is available for a nominal fee.

Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu. The offices that serve Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.