If your yard has a grassy lawn with trees and shrubs, you are probably very aware of how dependent plants are on water to survive and remain healthy and attractive.
It is not uncommon for residents of northern Delaware to be asked to restrict their water usage during periods of summer drought. The effect of that lack of water to lawns and plants is apparent. Unfortunately, with increased land development and only a limited supply of usable water, restricted water usage could become a way of life. Everyone must participate in better water conservation practices both indoors and out.
How can landscape practices change or adapt to better water conservation? One strategy is to conserve water through creative landscaping. With potentially limited quantities of usable water in many parts of the country, we must be more careful in applying water to the landscape.
An important step in the landscape process is conducting a site analysis. Whether your landscape is new or old, a thorough investigation of your property can reveal ways of implementing water-saving practices. Simple site-specific information that would help you in planning for a more water-conserving landscape might include the following:
- Climate – angles of the sun at various times of the day (also note seasonal changes in sun angles.)
- Summer and winter wind patterns through the property, snow drifting patterns.
- Microclimates (areas on the property that are warmer or cooler because of the orientation of the house and existing plants on the property).
- Monthly rainfall amounts.
- Topography – slopes, rock outcroppings, flat or low wet areas; their orientation to the sun.
- Vegetation – type, location and condition of existing trees, shrubs, lawn and groundcovers.
- Geology – drainage (surface and subsurface), soil types (a soil analysis can be extremely helpful–request instructions from your county Extension agent).
Armed with this information, you may want to design or re-design your landscape to be water conserving and better adapted to your site conditions.
Implement water-conserving design features into your plan. They may include the following elements:
- Locating deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves) to provide shade to planting beds and outdoor seating areas.
- Placing fences or shrubs to provide privacy, shade (for plants and people), spatial definition, winter wind protection, or to funnel summer breezes toward patios, decks or porches.
- Locating service-oriented features (dog run, trash containers, wood storage, compost pile, etc.) in areas that are easily accessible, least desirable for planting beds and out of sight from windows and outdoor seating areas.
- Planting vegetable, annual or cut flower gardens to take advantage of sunny locations during the growing season.
- Limiting the amount of lawn area and locating turf where it will be used (such as play areas). Use drought-tolerant turf mixes (turf is the biggest water user in the landscape). As an alternative to turf, use mulch and tough, drought-tolerant groundcovers.
- Using surfacing materials for patios and walks that allow water penetration into the ground and that reduce sun glare and heat build up. Examples are wood decks; brick or stone on a sand base for patios; and wood chips, pea gravel, or stepping stones on a sand base for paths and walks.
- Grouping plants with similar cultural requirements (sun, moisture, soil, etc.)
- Using native drought-tolerant or drought-resistant species of plants. Suggestions for drought-resistant species can be found in NPS Fact Sheet # 9, Plant Selection For Conservation.
- Grouping together and limiting the use of water-loving plants. Place these plants in shaded, moisture-conserving areas or where they will have a high visual impact. For color in the landscape, use flowering trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers and plants with variegated foliage as an alternative to annuals that require more care and water.
- Matching the plant’s water requirements with the soil moisture-holding capacity; for example, drought-tolerant plants under eaves where the soil is always dry.
- Mulching planting beds to conserve soil moisture, control competitive weeds and improve soil conditions as the mulch deteriorates.
By implementing at least some of these ideas into your landscape design, you will be practicing water conservation while providing beautiful and functional landscaping. This will set a good example for your friends and neighbors. With the real threat of a shortage of usable water, it is time that we all create more appropriate, pleasing and water-conserving landscapes for our homes and businesses.
Credits: EPA, DNREC, New Castle-Kent-Sussex Conservation Districts, Delaware Nature Society, Delaware Cooperative Extension, University of Delaware. Write to the New Castle County Cooperative Extension office, University of Delaware, 910 S. Chapel St. Newark, DE 19717-1303 for a copy of any publication you need.
Revision Date: 08/02/2004