Garden Clippings

By Mike Lang
September 2008
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Automatic sprinkler systems are a smart investment for keeping a lawn healthy and lush. Just be sure to buy one with a rain sensor, so water isn’t wasted when it’s raining.
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I sometimes catch flak about the amount of resources that go into my lawn and garden. People think I use a lot of water or chemicals to keep things looking nice. But the fact is, a well-maintained and planned landscape is actually more self-sustainable than one that may not look as nice.

There is no doubt that water plays a major role in having a successful garden, and through careful planning, water use in a landscape can be cut dramatically.

Choosing the right plants  

Planting the best plant for a particular location is very important. A plant that requires a moist soil is better planted in a sheltered location where the soil is not dried out by the sun and wind. It will definitely take more water to keep a hydrangea thriving in an exposed location with a sandy soil than it will a hypericum in the same spot. Along these same lines, a border planting of low-water-use plants is only as good as the ones with the highest requirement. It would be wise to group plants that require more water in plantings together. This will put the added irrigation in an area where all of the plants will benefit.

When the proper plant is selected, place shredded wood, leaves, pine needles, grass clippings or some other organic mulch around the plant to help conserve soil moisture from evaporation. The mulch should be 2 to 3 inches deep and should be pulled back from the stem of the
plant to prevent disease and insects easy access into the base.

Irrigation systems 

Watering methods will affect the amount of water used. Drip irrigation is by far the most efficient, since the water is added slowly to the roots of the plant. However, it isn’t an option for large groundcover beds or turf areas. To increase the efficiency of overhead watering, try watering in the early morning hours, when there is less evaporation from the heat, and when the winds are calmer, which keeps the water mist from blowing to nontargeted areas.

Automatic sprinkler systems are often looked at as a waste of water. However, a well-designed system will actually save water, because it will have separate areas that run at different times according to the plant material. Turf areas should run separate from shrub beds. The reason is that when a shrub matures, it will no longer need the frequent watering that the turf will during the hot months.

Automatic systems should have a rain sensor to suspend watering when it’s raining. I’ve often drive­n by landscapes during a rain and seen an irrigation system running. For a small investment, that wasted water could have been saved. It is also important to periodically check underground systems for leaks or damaged heads that can cause them to be inefficient.

Another way to conserve water is to use rain water. Water barrels attached to downspouts will catch rainfall, which can be used for container plantings or other areas of the garden. These small cisterns are available at many garden centers. In addition, using permeable paving surfaces ­– such as bricks for a patio or stepping stones for a walkway – instead of solid concrete will allow the rainfall to infiltrate the garden soil instead of running into a ditch or storm sewer that does not benefit the landscape at all.

We don’t have to abuse our resources to have fine gardens. However, we do need to be wise in both our planning and our practices.


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