Get Water Wise for 2008

Xeriscaping refers to alternative approaches to landscaping to reduce the need for water consumption, maintenance and other resources. Plants whose natural requirements are appropriate to the local climate are emphasized and care is taken to avoid losing water to evaporation and run-off.

Lubbock's water consumption indicates that residents tend to over water most of the year. Water is a valuable, but not endless resource. Drought contingency plans will be implemented if severe shortages occur. So, residents are urged to conserve water inside and outside their homes.

Water consumption in Lubbock jumps approximately 40% from winter to summer, due primarily to lawn watering. What can you do to conserve water? When and how often should you water? How much water is required? How is water best applied? Will automated irrigation systems help? Can the type of plants and grass used make a difference? Are there other steps you can take? Following the irrigation ordinance watering times conserves water. From April 1st through September 30th the ordinance stipulates that irrigation is only to occur between the hours of 6:00 pm and 10:00 am. This brochure presents some additional tips to help answer these questions.

Most plants require an inch of moisture per week during summer months. This means turf needs water when footprints are visible after you walk on it. During winter the water need is reduced to about an inch per month. To continue to water during the winter the same as during the summer is sheer folly. Also remember that rain water reduces water needs. The general rule is that infrequent but deep watering is best for plant growth. Deep watering means applying an inch of water to soak to a soil depth of four to six inches. Watering with a hose by hand or with attached sprinkler can be time consuming but is satisfactory as long as sufficient water is applied.

Where applicable, drip irrigation is the best and most efficient method, and particularly for small strips and isolated areas.

The easiest way to measure, is to set several empty tuna cans within the sprinkler spray pattern and measure how long it takes to put an inch of water in the containers. Adjust timers accordingly. This may require that the system be divided into two or three cycles with soak times in between to minimize runoff.

Large areas generally require properly sized sprinklers designed to throw large drops. Fine mist dispersal is very wasteful and should be avoided. Watering streets, sidewalks, and driveways should be avoided since it is also wasteful and contributes to undesirable runoff.

Sprinkler systems should only be used when needed, maintained, adjusted properly, and used at the correct time (never on windy days, during freezing temperatures nor during rain). Early morning or late evening hours are the best times during the spring and summer months. Sprinkler systems work best when they are operated correctly. Runoff will happen when the soil cannot absorb any more water. Factors affecting the absorption rate include the amount of water already present in the soil, the application rate, how long the system is operated or cycled on/off, the water holding capacity of the soil, the slope of the surface being watered, wind conditions, and the temperature (freezing weather hinders water absorption because of ice formation). You can make significant water conserving efforts in your yard without sacrificing its appearance. The difference is between an irrigation system that is properly designed and installed by a licensed contractor and an irrigation system that is installed by an unlicensed contractor. The ultimate difference can be measured in gallons of wasted water and destroyed valuable landscape plants. One can readily see from the large number of factors involved, that sprinkler systems must be designed, installed, and operated correctly. Since there are mechanical parts, electronic controllers, and water filters to be maintained, you must faithfully monitor your system to gain its benefits.

Landscaping with native or adapted plants is very popular. They are well suited to our climate because these plants are heat and drought tolerant. These plants use less water than traditional ornamental plants making them much easier to tend. In addition, Texas natives provide habitats and food sources for wildlife species and butterflies.

Lawns are the biggest water users depending on type of grass used. Below is a chart of common turf types and their normal water requirements during the summer.

Every 2 Weeks
TEX-TURF: 10 Every 7-10 Days
COMMON BERMUDA: Every 6-7 Days
FESCUE: Every 4 Days

Buffalo typically needs 0.5-1.0"/watering. Tex-Turf 10 and common Bermuda need approximately 1" per watering, and Fescue needs 1.5-2.0" per watering. Fescue is a cool season grass, which normally goes dormant during the hottest months whereas the other grasses go dormant closer to frost and throughout the winter. Fescue will live in shade whereas the others require full sunlight.

Mulches act as a barrier to water losses particularly during high winds. They should be laid on top of the ground around the plant for best success. Mulching around plants minimizes weed growth and helps cool the roots in the soil.

There are various decorative organic mulches, some made from shredded wood or bark. Some are colored and some are longer lasting than others due to their chemical content.

Overall larger pieces last longer while fine mulch made from saw dust will rapidly decompose and deplete the nitrogen in your soil. These mulches are beneficial to the soil. A couple of inches is all that is necessary. They must be replaced yearly.

Mulches made from rock, gravel, or lava will last for a long time and are available in various colors. They will not normally decompose nor add supplemental benefits to the soil.

Fertilizing new plants or shrubs is usually discouraged because they are often environmentally stressed until established. Adequate watering is the main thing needed initially. Soil testing is the only accurate way of determining what plants need. Visible examination of established plants can indicate what is needed. A soil amendment like compost is safe due to its low nitrogen content will not burn the plants. A complete (NPK), slow release fertilizer is best. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations or contact your Texas Cooperative Extension or Lubbock Master Gardener Association.

Lawn fertilization is another matter entirely. Turf grasses consume nitrogen more rapidly than other plants and must be well fed. However, slow release fertilizer is still the safest to use because excessive fertilizer can cause plant injury, particularly to newly seeded plants.

Fertilizer should be applied according to manufacturer instructions twice a year for root stimulation. Grass with a good root system makes better use of less water and is more drought tolerant. Slow release fertilizers are best for continuous plant growth.