A great garden doesn't have to jack up your water bill. Here's how to keep watering costs down.
When you water your garden lavishly, your checking account isn't the only thing going down the drain. Increasingly, landscapes are putting a burden on community water supplies, especially in the West. Even in the South and the East Coast, water rationing is becoming increasingly common. But scrimping on water doesn't have to mean scrimping on your landscaping. It's all a matter of making a little water go a long way.
- Group plants according to water need. Highly drought-tolerant plants can go in one spot; moderate-water plants in another. High-water use plants go in another -- preferably close to the house so they're easier to get to with a hose.
- Go lightly on the annuals, heavier on perennials, and still heavier on shrubs. The larger the root system, usually, the less dependent the plant is on your babying it with the hose.
- Minimize lawn. Just as an SUV is a gas guzzler, turf is a water guzzler, requiring at least an inch of water every week. Use it as an accessory in your garden, something to set off beds and borders filled with low-maintenance small trees and shrubs and perennials -- not as the focal point. Bonus: You'll cut mowing and fall leaf raking time considerably.
- Mulch lavishly. Make sure annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs all have 1 to 3 inches of a mulch such as wood chips or pine needles. It keeps the soil cooler and conserves moisture.
- Know your soil and plant accordingly. In the most of the Midwest, East Coast, and much of the South, improving soil with ample amounts of compost is the best way to go. Compost loosens clay soils and makes sandy soils more fertile and moist. Spread 6 inches of compost onto the top of the soil before digging a new bed. Otherwise, apply 1 to 2 inches of compost to the top of the soil in beds, borders, and vegetable gardens every year. It's the best investment you can make. In the West, however, "improve" soil with caution. Many drought-tolerant plants actually thrive in poor, lean, rocky soils and making the soil too rich or moisture-retentive can create disease and pest problems. They might even just plain rot.
Continued on page 2: Water Wisely