The Gardening Gloves Are Off: Time to Get Smart about Your Landscaping April 2019

Spring has sprung and the great outdoors is calling! What better way to enjoy your outdoor space than by knowing you're giving it its best chance to survive and thrive while also saving water and money? Read on for tips and resources to cultivate a thriving, water-wise garden and landscaping.

Know your area.

Texas is a large state whose climate and geography vary greatly. What grows well in humid East Texas may not survive in the more arid High Plains region. The geographic diversity that allows Texans to enjoy mountains and coastal plains and sandy beaches and pine forests—all within the state's own borders—means that you have to be selective about what you plant where.

Another reason to be choosy is the amount of water used on landscape irrigation. In Texas, outdoor watering can account for more than 30 percent of total home water use. Smart planting can significantly reduce that amount.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map divides the country into zones based on the average annual minimum winter temperature in 10-degree (Fahrenheit) increments. By knowing which zone you're in, you can select plants that are most likely to thrive.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension offers an extensive plant catalog that can be searched by hardiness zone, zip code, or region. So if you pine for plumbago, are crazy for coneflower, or yearn for yaupon, find out if they're accustomed to your area before digging a home for them in your yard.

Choose native plants.

Native plants occur naturally in an area. They are hardier than non-native plants and require less maintenance, such as fertilizer or soil modifications. Most important, they are accustomed to the rainfall of their native habitats and need little, if any, additional water. Native plants are also more resistant to diseases and pests.

Look beyond the traditional lawn to native groundcovers, shrubs, and perennials that can help you dial back the amount of water you use in your landscape.

Water wisely.

As your best defense against wilting plants in Texas summers, mulch! Mulching around plants cools the soil and reduces evaporation, which means you will use less water. Other tips that can help you save water are listed below.

Know when:

  • The best time to water all landscape plant material is early morning or late evening when winds are calmer and temperatures are lower, resulting in less water loss to evaporation. It's important to give leaf surfaces time to dry before nightfall to deter disease and decay.
  • Because not all plants have the same water requirements, group plants according to their water needs so that you don't water too frequently.

Know how:

  • Make sure your irrigation system is in good working order. Find any leaks and broken heads and remove dirt or debris that may be clogging the nozzle.
  • Low-output sprinkler heads, bubblers, or drip irrigation systems decrease runoff and are efficient ways to apply water. Drip irrigation systems take longer to wet the soil but lose very little water to evaporation. Automatic sprinklers offer convenience but must be managed to avoid water waste. Use a sprinkler that emits large drops of water that remain close to the ground, not one that sprays a fine mist into the air. Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep, well-established root systems.
  • Avoid watering sidewalks, driveways, or streets. Adjust your sprinklers to ensure that water isn't running off.
  • Consider collecting rainwater for your plants and landscaping irrigation. Funnel the water from your gutters into a barrel or cistern and save it for a sunny day.

When in doubt, seek advice from an expert.

Resources are plentiful to help you choose the best plants for your region. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has offices throughout the state and specialists knowledgeable about each region. Local nurseries are good sources of information about landscaping tailored to your area. Cities and counties may also offer planting guides and information about conserving water resources through careful landscape selection and watering practices. And the Texas Water Development Board's "Watering Guide for Texas Landscapes” brochure offers outdoor watering tips and more.

Understanding the plants that are well suited to your area and practicing smart irrigation will help you enjoy the benefits of an attractive landscape while knowing you are doing your part to conserve water.

What's growing in your yard? Show us photos by tagging @TWDB on Twitter and @TxWaterDevBoard on Instagram! Don't forget that your profiles must be public for us to see.

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