With all the rain we were getting earlier this spring, I knew the time would come when we would be wishing we could save some of it for later. It is almost a guarantee that we will go through periods of drought during the spring, summer and fall. As I write this article, the last good rain most of us got was April 30.
With water rates and populations rising, it might be time to start drought-proofing the landscape to help it survive times of limited rainfall and little-to-no irrigation.
As competition for water increases, summer restrictions or bans on outdoor water use occur more often, even during years of normal rainfall. Georgia has been under mandatory water restrictions for more than a year now, and it is permanent. If you rely on municipal water to keep your landscape green, you're already being affected by the restrictions and there might be outright bans if long-term droughts occur.
You don't have to invest a lot of money, though, to make your landscape more drought-resistant. Just changing how you water can often help. Reducing the amount of water you give landscape plants this spring will reduce their reliance on extra watering this summer.
By weaning your plants off extra water now, you'll urge their roots systems to grow deeper. The more you baby plants with water now, the shallower their roots will grow and the more water they'll demand during dry times.
Consider putting in some sweeping beds of pine straw, pine bark or hardwood mulch. You can get a pickup load of mulch from the Augusta Richmond County Landfill for $10.
Mulch is one of the best investments you can make in the summer landscape. It traps moisture in the soil, making it available to the plants longer. Fine-textured mulches such as pine straw or pine bark do better than coarse-textured mulches.
Newspapers aren't just for reading anymore; they make excellent mulch around ornamental shrubs, flowers and vegetables. Use a leaf rake to gently pull back the mulch you have now. Dip the newspaper in a bucket of water and spread it two-sheets thick over the ground. Then put the mulch back to hide the newspaper and hold it in place. Newspaper not only helps hold moisture but also adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes. When planting flowers, it's easier to spread the moistened newspaper before planting them. Then make holes in the paper and plant through them.
Hand-watering with the garden hose and targeting plants that need water is more efficient than watering with a lawn sprinkler, which waters some plants that don't need it. When watering by hand, use a water breaker or nozzle to apply water slowly at a rate the soil can absorb.
Put saucers under patio plants to collect excess water. As the soil in the pot dries out, it will wick up the excess water from the saucer as needed. Be careful with this, though. If we go through periods of frequent afternoon showers during the summer, the constant standing water in the saucers can lead to root rot and mosquitoes.
When planting container plants, use strips of old T-shirts, flannel sheets or other cotton fabric as wicks, extending from the saucer through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and into the soil media. The fabric acts like a wick in an oil lamp. It pulls water into the soil media as needed. The wick-and-reservoir combination makes containers self-watering during summer vacation, too.
Wire baskets lined with coconut fiber or sphagnum moss tend to dry out quickly in the summer, so line the inside with a plastic bag to reduce moisture loss through the container sides. Provide drainage holes so the pots don't get water logged.
SID MULLIS IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE IN RICHMOND COUNTY. CALL 821-2349, OR SEND E-MAIL TO SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.