You might have heard, but many parts of the country are experiencing severe drought, enough to cause wildfires. We all need to do our part to conserve as much water as possible, but what about that gorgeous garden you spent so much time and money perfecting? Luckily, we talked to a few Thumbtack professionals who have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep your garden gorgeous, even during water restrictions.
Prioritize your watering needs
Not all plants are created equal when it comes to water requirements. Trees, shrubs and recently-planted perennials should be watered first. More established plants should come last, and lawns should be somewhere near the middle.
Think of it this way — what plants would you be saddest to lose? Lawns and container plants are easily replaced, while trees are both a financial and time investment, making them more frustrating to replace.
Prioritizing your watering needs also means making sure water isn’t being diverted to plants you don’t want water. Here’s looking at you, weeds.
Ensuring your garden is weed-free is more important than ever during a drought. Weeds steal valuable moisture from the soil, leaving your precious flowers, veggies and trees with less water as a result.
You may also want to try hydrozoning, which means physically grouping plants based on how much water they need. For example, cucumbers, zucchinis and squash all have similar water needs, so plant them together. Doing so maximizes your watering efforts without giving water to the plants that don’t need it (and vice versa).
Mulch is your friend
When you do water your garden, you’re going to want to make that water last. Unfortunately, the hot summer sun can evaporate your efforts, quickly drying out the soil. A thick layer (up to 3 inches) of mulch acts as a shield and keeps the soil cool. It also holds the water in, allowing your plants to get as much as possible from your efforts.
Luckily, there are numerous mulch options to match any style. Talk to a landscaper about what style might work best with your garden. Anything from gravel to redwood bark can help reduce weeds (see above), retain moisture and add an eye-catching element to your landscape.
Repair faulty irrigation (and avoid sprinklers)
“Sprayers allow too much evaporation,” says gardener John Guglielmelli. “Installing drip line irrigation is the most efficient way to water.” Automatic systems direct water only to the spots that need it instead of unnecessarily watering your sidewalk like most sprinkler systems.
If you’ve already got that covered, great! But when was the last time you checked to make sure it was working properly? Checking any sprinkler system for leaks is incredibly important as even a slight drip is wasteful. Hire a professional irrigation system company to perform an audit. This will save you money and water long term.
However you choose to water your yard, “Do it during the wee morning hours,” adds Guglielmelli. “This also helps with evaporation prevention. And make sure you’re watering longer and less frequently to insure the water hits deeper root systems. Frequent brief watering keep the roots closer to the surface where they’re vulnerable to heat and dryness.”
Take advantage of the rain
When it does rain, are you just letting your lawn take what it can, then waiting for the next rare rainfall? A surprising number of gardeners don’t take advantage of this brilliant opportunity.
Rain barrels are cheap and easy ways to collect gallons of water (around 300 gallons per inch of rain) that you can use year-round. Plus, rainwater doesn’t have the same chemicals as the water you get from the tap.
All you need is a large water-tight container to place at the bottom of your gutter system. Water from the roof flows down through the gutter and into your barrel, giving you plenty of water to maintain your garden. (Just make sure you put a fine screen over the top to keep bugs from laying eggs.)
But what about the lawn?
Lush, green grass is lovely but also notorious for taking a ton of water to maintain, especially during hot summer months. In a drought, this gives you two options:
- Water as infrequently as possible, allowing your lawn to get to the point where you can leave footprints in the grass. That’s when it’s time to water.
- Allow your grass go dormant. Focus your water on more important plants.
If you go with the first option, there are a number of tricks to getting your grass to last as long as possible.
- Avoid cutting grass too short. When it’s dry, raise your mower blades by one inch to keep the grass a little long. Grass grows slower in dry conditions.
- Leave some grass clippings on the lawn after mowing. These clippings act as a mulch and can keep moisture in. However, when it does eventually rain, rake off the clippings to allow the rain to penetrate the roots.
- “Only mow during the middle of the day,” says Thumbtack pro Rod Snay. “That way you won’t disturb the natural effect of morning and evening dew.”
Whatever option you choose, prolong your lawn’s life by avoiding fertilizer, which increases the rate of growth.
For next year: Drought tolerant landscaping tips
“Watering during the drought to maintain a happy garden is serious business these days,” says Guglielmelli. Long-term, you’ll want to “include as many indigenous and drought resistant plants as possible.”
Beautiful (and useful!) plants that can often go long periods of time without water include herbs like lavender, oregano and thyme. And while they take a little bit of time at first, established shrubs and evergreens require less additional water than you’d expect. Talk to your local gardening center about which plants are both local and drought-resistant.
When it comes to landscaping, play around with additional elements that aren’t actually plants. Large boulders, tall containers and fountains that recycle water (collected from your new rain barrel of course) are all ways to spruce up your yard without needing to rely on water.
How are you dealing with the drought this summer? Any tricks to share?