Tips for Developing Water-Smart Landscaping

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program is proving to be a valuable tool in helping people maintain healthy lawns while also conserving water. For instance, WaterSense-labeled products—such as smart irrigation controllers and soil moisture-based controllers (in the pipeline)—help both property owners and their irrigation contractors to quickly identify products that will help them develop a water-smart landscaping plan.

Why water-smart landscaping is important

The average American uses 100 gallons of water per day—that’s 320 gallons used every day by the average family. Outdoors, especially in the summer, the amount of water used by a household can exceed the amount used for all other purposes in the entire year. This is especially true in hot, dry climates.

Gardening and lawn care account for the majority of this seasonal increase. Of the estimated 29 billion gallons of water used daily by households in the United States, more than 8.5 billion, or 30%, is devoted to outdoor water use. In dry climates, a household’s outdoor water use can be as high as 60%. The majority of this is used for landscaping. In fact, it is estimated that the average American home consumes 58,000 gallons of water outdoors each year, mostly for irrigation.

Tips for developing water-smart landscaping

Go native or choose plants that need less water. Once established, native and low water-using plants require little water beyond normal rainfall. If you’re designing a new landscape or just sprucing up your current landscape, be sure to consider the water needs of the plants you choose.

Group plants according to their water needs. Grouping vegetation with similar watering needs into specific “hydrozones” reduces water use by allowing you to water to each zone’s specific needs. Turf areas and shrub areas should always be separated into different hydrozones because of their differing water needs.

Maintain healthy soils. Healthy soil and turf are the basis for a water-smart landscape; they effectively cycle nutrients, minimize runoff, retain water, and absorb excess nutrients, sediments and pollutants. Maintaining healthy soils and turf includes several cultural practices, including fertilization and cultivation, proper mowing, and weed/insect/disease control. Soil ammendements which help to maintain an optimum ph level also improve overall soil health.

Be selective when adding turf areas. Turfgrass receives the highest percentage of irrigation water in traditional landscaping. To improve the aesthetics of your landscape and better manage outdoor water use, plant turfgrass only where it has a practical function.

Water wisely. Know your plant’s water needs and avoid watering during the heat of the day. If you have an irrigation system, make regular adjustments to ensure proper watering. And be sure to look for the WaterSense label on components for your system.

Use mulch. Incorporate mulch around shrubs and garden plants to help reduce evaporation, inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, and prevent erosion. Adding organic matter and aerating soil can improve its ability to hold water.

Provide regular maintenance. Replace mulch around shrubs and garden plants at least once per year, and remove weeds and thatch as necessary.

SOURCE: EPA brochure entitled, "Water-smart landscapes start with WaterSense"

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