Ways to conserve water in Charlotte
by Ellen Goff
For advice on soil testing, native plants for your home landscape and drought-tolerant plants, call the N.C. Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Hotline at 704-336-4011.
Also check out the Charlotte Utilities website: charmeck.org/Departments/Utilities/WaterSmart/home.htm
Charlotte, like much of the nation, has experienced moderate to severe drought conditions this summer. It may be time to use a different management technique in your yard. Xeriscaping is an innovative method of landscaping that conserves energy, natural resources and water.
The term Xeriscape, (pronounced ZER-ih-skayp) made up from the Greek word "xeros" meaning dry and landscape, first surfaced in 1981 in Denver when the local water utility that trademarked the concept created a low-watering demonstration garden. Since its inception, Xeriscaping has been mistakenly used to refer to dry, barren desert landscapes, which turns many people off. Xeriscape actually can embrace just about any landscape style.
Plants native to your area can endure local climatic extremes. With planning and a clear understanding of Xeriscape methods, you can have the yard you really want without wasting resources. Each of these seven Xeriscaping principles is a sound gardening practice in itself.
1. Draft a comprehensive plan — Map out your yard and how it gets used. Identify permanent structures, existing vegetation, slopes, sun and shade exposures, damp and dry spots, plus areas for recreation and relaxation.
2. Test your soil — Conditions can vary widely within a single-home landscape. Contact your county's cooperative extension office for details on testing, or purchase a soil-analysis kit from a local garden center. The test results will help determine how to improve root development, water penetration and retention.
3. Create practical turf areas — Determine the function of each lawn area in the landscape. Places that are difficult to mow or need too much care should be converted into ground cover beds. Reduce the size of turf areas and water them separately from the rest of the landscape.
4. Select the right plant for the right place — Even plants that require more frequent watering can be incorporated in a Xeriscape. The key is to balance the number and placement of higher maintenance plants with drought-tolerant or native species. Locate plants with higher water requirements close to the house. In the next zone, include plants that, when well established, would require only occasional watering during an extended drought period. For the third zone, choose native species and hardy cultivars that have adapted to the region's precipitation patterns. After watering regularly the first year to establish the plantings, this zone won't need irrigation.
5. Use water efficiently — Even Xeriscapes need supplemental irrigation for several years until plantings become established. If you install an irrigation system, use drip or soaker hoses for the highest efficiency. Water longer but less frequently to allow moisture to penetrate plant roots. Track the amount of water used weekly in each zone. Also, monitor the weather and plant conditions, and adjust the watering schedule accordingly.
6. Apply organic mulch — It minimizes evaporation, impedes weeds and moderates soil temperatures. Wood chips or bark decompose slowly and add nutrients to the soil. Don't use plastic, because it blocks air and water from filtering into the soil. Rock mulch should only be used sparingly since it increases the temperature of the soil and surrounding area.
7. Practice appropriate maintenance — As your landscape adapts, it may start to grow more slowly, requiring less upkeep and less fertilizer. Frequently inspect your plants to see if you can reduce the amount of pesticides and other chemicals. Identify problems promptly, determine the least toxic remedy and treat affected areas immediately.
Ellen Goff is a master gardener and environmental advocate. Aside from writing about and photographing plants, Ellen tends to a 3-acre landscape she shares with her husband, cat and border collie on the shores of Lake Wylie, S.C.