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Not all plants are equally thirsty: a guide to watering your garden

Updated: Feb 28

A Watering Guide for Texas Landscape Water for the future, starting now Because Texas enjoys a vibrant economy and continued population growth, ensuring we have enough water for current and future Texans remains a top priority in the state. Fortunately, all Texans can play a role in conserving water. Outdoor water can constitute a large portion of overall residential water use so wise landscape watering is an important place to start. If we cultivate good watering habits just as we cultivate our gardens, we can use water to sustain our plants and promote healthy growth while conserving supplies for future use. The key to watering the Texas landscape wisely is threefold: 1 Choose plants adaptive to conditions in your area of the state. 1 Measure the amount of water needed to irrigate your landscape. 1 Use the right tools and methods to deliver the optimal amount. You don’t have to give up having an aesthetically pleasing lawn to conserve water. It is important for homeowners who want to enjoy lawns but are concerned about conservation to realize lawns don’t waste water, people do! There are positive features of lawns as recreational surfaces that reduce heat loads, noise, and water and air pollution. Lawns also benefit the environment by harvesting water to recharge groundwater resources. Moreover, turfgrass entraps organic pollutants, protects soil from erosion, reduces climatic temperature, and protects structures from fire by making a noncombustible green zone. But it’s the strategic planning of lawns and landscape plants and watering practices that makes the difference between waste and conservation.

Get help from landscape experts Resources are plentiful to help you choose the best plants for your region. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has offices throughout the state and specialists knowledgeable about each region. The website at http://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/ has a vast amount of information on topics ranging from planting a tree to building a garden to composting leaves. Local nurseries are good sources of information about landscaping tailored to your area. Cities and counties may also offer planting guides and information about conserving water resources through careful landscape selection and watering practices. The geographic diversity that allows Texans to enjoy mountains and coastal plains and sandy beaches and pine forests—all within our own borders—means that we have to be selective about what we plant where.

Plant your feet on a healthy lawn Because lawns are so popular and cover so much of the area that Texans proudly call home, it is important to select the right turfgrass and practice good landscaping methods: 1 Select a grass adapted to the climate, intended use, and site-specific conditions (for example, shade vs. sun, soil depth/quality, irrigated vs. nonirrigated, amount of traffic, level of maintenance). 1 Prepare and maintain healthy soil. 1 Follow through by establishing a good cultural program (such as mowing, fertilizing, irrigating) for long-term success. Several varieties of turfgrass are likely to grow well in appropriate areas of Texas. The table below shows traits associated with the different varieties. Matching traits to local conditions gives the best chance for developing a healthy lawn while conserving water.

Once well established, warm-season turfgrass can survive on less than the optimum rainfall amount— most varieties will thrive anywhere that receives about 20 inches of rainfall during the growing season. (The growing season for warm-season grasses generally starts four to six weeks after the last frost of the spring and ends with the first frost in the fall.) In addition to choosing turfgrass suited to your region’s climate, you should also consider the mowing needs of different varieties: some will require more mowing than others. To maintain a healthy lawn, never remove more than one-third of the grass blade on any turfgrass when mowing. The amounts of sunlight and shade in your landscape are also important concerns in choosing a suitable turfgrass. Because some varieties do not grow well in shade, choose turfgrass that will tolerate shade if your lawn requires it. Get the dirt on dirt in your area Besides rainfall, soil is an important ingredient in determining the suitability of an area for particular plants. Some soils have high clay content and drain slowly but retain water; clay soils take longer to absorb water but keep it longer. Other soils are sandy, draining well and absorbing water quickly but not holding it as long as clay soils. Plants in sandy soils need less water more often. Loam soil has characteristics in between those of clay and sand. Landscapes built on loam need moderate amounts of water, and loam retains moderate amounts. Water can be applied less often to clay and loam soils than to sandy soils, but it should be applied more slowly to prevent runoff. By adapting your watering practices to the soil in your area, you can ensure that the water you use goes to your landscape and not down the drain. Soils can be improved by topdressing the entire lawn with about ½ inch of compost per year after aeration. If you are establishing a new lawn, consider blending topsoil with about 25 percent compost. Soil testing offered through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can help determine the best product for your lawn. Soil test kits may also be found at many local nurseries. A soil test is the number one key to establishing and maintaining all landscape plant materials to ensure the soil has adequate amounts of nutrients. Spread the word—mulch The use of mulch—a protective ground cover that reduces evaporation of soil moisture, helps maintain uniform soil temperatures, reduces soil erosion, controls weeds, and, in the case of organic mulches, enriches the soil—is vital in Texas. Removing weeds and applying mulch help conserve water by directing it to the plants you want to protect.

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