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Proper watering will help home landscapes survive drought

Gardening in Gwinnett

Gwinnett County Extension Service

Most of Georgia is in a serious drought, and many localities have instituted water restrictions. If the drought continues, a water ban may be imposed on some communities.

The Gwinnett County Extension Office has received numerous calls from homeowners with questions about how to help drought-stressed plants and proper watering techniques. Most of the plant samples we receive to diagnose are stressed due to water-related problems, and many of the questions we receive are along the lines of, "How often should I water my lawn to keep it green?"

Even when we are in the worst of droughts and heat spells, a good looking, well-kept landscape is still possible. The principles discussed here are part of a type of landscape management called xeriscaping, a technique that combines water conservation and protecting the environment. The term xeriscape (pronounced zera-scape) was coined in Colorado in 1981 in response to a prolonged drought. It derives from merging the Greek word "xeros," meaning "dry."

A xeriscape-type landscape can reduce outdoor water consumption by as much as 50 percent without sacrificing the quality and beauty of your home environment. It is also an environmentally sound landscape, requiring less fertilizer and fewer chemicals.

You do not have to totally redesign your landscape to save water. You can save a lot of water just by modifying your watering schedule, learning how and when to water, using the most efficient watering methods and learning about the different water needs of plants in your landscape.

When selecting plant material that is drought-tolerant, remember: Plants don't save water, people do. Placing plants in the landscape appropriately and managing them properly will help save water.

In most landscapes, turfgrasses occupy the largest area and often receive far more water than is necessary. You can save a considerable amount of water by just watering areas of the turf that have the most impact and visibility.

The recommended turfgrasses for use in Georgia can survive most droughts without supplemental watering. During dry periods, healthy turfgrass will begin to wilt and turn brown, regaining its normal color and appearance upon receiving adequate water again. You must be willing to accept a loss of quality and appearance during periods of limited rainfall.

Warm-season turfgrasses such as bermuda, zoysia and centipede require roughly 1 inch of water per week. Tall fescue may require more. Applying small amounts of water every day actually reduces the grass' drought tolerance by encouraging a shallow root system.

Woody ornamental shrubs and trees have a more extensive and deeper root system than turfgrasses, giving them the ability to extract moisture from the soil even when the surface is dry. They can survive prolonged dry spells without water.

Mulching conserves moisture by preventing water from evaporating from the soil. Mulches can reduce the crusting of the soil surface and allow water to penetrate into the root zones and insulate the plant roots from the heat. Two to 4 inches of mulch is ideal - avoid applying too much, because this encourages the development of shallow roots that are easily damaged by excessive cold, heat or drought.

For more information on drought proofing your home landscape, visit www.caes.uga.edu/topics/disasters/drought.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly @gwinnettcounty.com.