Landscape Maintenance Practices Save Water|
Texas Cooperative Extension
Revised 6 July 2005 by Dr. Doug Welsh
Proper maintenance is a key principle in reducing irrigation requirements
in the landscape. Maintenance practices, such as mulching, mowing and fertilizing
greatly impact the water efficiency of any landscape, as well as the landscape's
ability to survive a drought.
Research at Texas A&M University has shown that unmulched soil may lose
twice as much water to evaporation as mulched soil. Mulch is a layer of
material covering the soil surface around plants. Mulches can be organic
materials, such as shredded bark, compost and wood chips; or inorganic materials,
such as lava rock, limestone and woven plastic.
Use a mulch wherever possible. A good mulch preserves soil moisture,
prevents soil compaction, keeps soil temperatures more moderate and reduces
weed populations. In case weeds do get a start, they are much easier to
pull if a mulch has been used.
Organic mulches will decompose and sometimes wash away, so make checks regularly
and replacements when necessary.
In addition to mulching, other maintenance practices help save water in
the landscape. Raising the mowing height on turfgrasses helps lawns survive drought conditions.
For example, raise the mowing height on St. Augustine grass to 3 1/2 to 4 inches during drought. The typical mowing height is 2-2 1/2 inches. However,
the taller height promotes a deeper, more water efficient root system. Taller
grass acts like a living mulch, shading the ground, thus reducing moisture
evaporation from the soil. Also, grass that is allowed to grow taller grows
slower; therefore, needing less water and mowing.
Another maintenance practice that adds to the efficient use of water by
plants is proper fertilization. Applying fertilizer to the lawn at the proper
time and in the proper amount can save time, effort and money through reduced
mowing and watering. Fertilizers can also be a major source of pollution
of streams and groundwater if excessive amounts are applied.
Fertilize the lawn once in spring and again in fall to produce a beautiful
turf without excess growth which demands frequent watering. Use a slow-release
form of nitrogen in spring and a quick release form in fall. Apply only
1 pound of actual nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn at one
time. By using this fertilizer schedule, no other fertilizer is needed
for most shrubs and trees in the lawn area.
Other cultural practices that add to the efficient use of water by plants
are periodic checks of the irrigation system, properly-timed insect and
disease control and elimination of water-demanding weeds.