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Drought-resistant landscape

Kelly Casterson and Reinette Senum
PowerUp NC

Based on the response we received from our article, Lawn Mower Pollution, we decided to make it a two-part series on lawns with our focus this month on water conservation. We chose this topic because, you have likely heard by now that, the dry season is a full month ahead of schedule. This means there are plenty of good reasons to consider some water reduction strategies at home.

In 2007, Nevada City used 232,461,350 total gallons. That equates to 212 gallons per person per day! This water includes our showers, flushing and the biggest summertime usage of all – irrigation for our landscapes and livestock.

Of the tremendous amounts of water applied to lawns and gardens, much of it is never absorbed by the plants and put to use. Some water is lost to runoff by being applied too rapidly, and some water evaporates from exposed, un-mulched soil; but, the greatest waste of water is applying too much too often. In addition to over watering plants, excess irrigation can leach nutrients deep into the soil away from plant roots, and runoff caused by excess irrigation can carry polluting fertilizers and pesticides to streams and lakes. The waste or pollution of high quality water through inefficient irrigation practices can be eliminated through proper watering techniques.



The term “Xeriscape” was coined in Colorado in 1978 and comes from the term “xeric” and “scape” which essentially means drought-resistant landscape. You might think of more arid climates like Arizona, Colorado or New Mexico when you think of this approach and yet Nevada County typically sees very little rain from May until October so unless there is a very deep root system involved, our plants live in an arid environment just about half of the year. A well-designed landscape can decrease maintenance by as much as 50 percent through reduced mowing, once-a-year mulching, elimination of weak, un-adapted plants, and more efficient watering techniques.

The good news is that to reduce the irrigation needs of your landscape doesn’t mean that you have to put in astro-turf, rocks and cactus plants. So when planting new perennials this spring, keep in mind there is an assortment of drought tolerant varieties of plants that are beautiful, hardy and will save money on your water bills. Here are some ways to get started on reducing water outside:




Planning and Design: Creating a water-efficient landscape begins with a well-thought-out landscape design.

Soil Analysis: The more organic matter there is in the soil, the healthier your shrub and flowerbed areas will be. Enriching soil with compost and manure will help with water retention and will help plants thrive.

Plant Selection: Select trees, shrubs and ground covers based on suitability for our region’s soil and climate. California is blessed with an abundance of beautiful native plants that are naturally adapted to our region.

Grass Selection: Minimizing the amount of grass in the yard can save water and reduce the maintenance time of your yard. Planting food, or drought resistant perennials can be a lush and edible alternative to mowing grass. If you do choose grass, try hardy fescue varieties that are more suitable for dry climates.

Watering: Most lawns receive twice as much water as they require for a healthy appearance. The key to watering lawns is to apply the water infrequently, yet thoroughly. This creates a deep, well-rooted lawn that efficiently uses water stored in the soil. Watering at night will reduce the amount that evaporates and help with absorption.

Trees and Shrubs: Newly planted trees and shrubs need more frequent watering from planting time until becoming well rooted, which may take two growing seasons. Once established, plants can then be weaned to tolerate less frequent watering. Proper weaning develops deep roots and makes the plants more drought enduring.

Irrigation Systems: The goal of any irrigation system is to give plants a sufficient amount of water without waste. By zoning an irrigation system, grass areas can be watered separately and more frequently than groundcovers, shrubs and trees. Both sprinkler and drip irrigation can be incorporated to achieve water conservation in the landscape.

If you have a permanent sprinkler system, make sure the sprinkler heads are adjusted properly to avoid watering sidewalks and driveways. Also, a properly adjusted sprinkler head sprays large droplets of water instead of a fog of fine mist which is more susceptible to evaporation and wind drift.

Drip Irrigation: Drip irrigation offers increased watering efficiency and plant performance when compared to sprinkler irrigation. The water flows under low pressure through emitters, bubblers or spray heads placed at each plant. Water applied by drip irrigation has little chance of waste through evaporation or runoff.

Mulching Conserves Moisture: Mulch is a layer of nonliving material covering the soil surface around plants. Mulches can be organic materials such as pine bark, compost and woodchips, or inorganic materials, such as lava rock, limestone or permeable plastic, not sheet plastic. Use mulch wherever possible. A good mulch conserves water by significantly reducing moisture evaporation from the soil. Mulch also reduces weed populations, prevents soil compaction, and keeps soil temperatures more moderate.

Proper Mowing Conserves Water: Leaving grass 3 inches or higher saves water because the grass provides shade for soil. The blade of grass is also where the water is stored for the root system. If you cut your grass too short you are in affect taking away the water storage for the grass’s root system. So next time you think you need to mow the lawn, kick your feet up and have a cold drink and watch the grass grow!

Comments? Email us at staff@powerup-nc.org


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