FUNDAMENTALS of WATER EFFICIENT LANDSCAPING



Proper Planning and Design: 
Developing a landscape plan is the first and most important step in creating a water-efficient landscape.  This is your roadmap to establishing a beautiful low-maintenance landscape that needs less water to thrive. Key considerations include: mapping existing vegetation, topography and drainage, current uses vs. future uses, and grouping plants by their water needs.  Separating native and adapted plants from thirsty ones will make irrigation easier and more water-efficient.

Soil Analysis and Improvements:
Have your soil tested by your county extension office (Tarrant County: 817-884-1944).  They can analyze the pH levels; nutrient levels (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium); and the sand, silt, clay, and organic matter content of your soil.  They will suggest ways to improve your soil’s ability to support plants and retain water.

Many landscape problems can be avoided if an adequate amount of time is spent on soil preparation and conditioning.  Improving your soil through the addition of compost/organic matter will help plants retain moisture and resist evaporation.  Compacted soil should be aerated occasionally.

 Appropriate Plant Selection:
Choose plants that are native or adapted to the North Central Texas climate.  These drought-resistant plants will save you time on maintenance and save you money on water bills.  Once established, native or adapted plants can thrive in the environment with little to no additional water beyond normal rainfall.  Native plants commonly do not require the addition of fertilizers and are more pest and disease resistant.  Remember to group plants into “hydrozones” according to their water requirements.

For information on selecting appropriate plants, visit Texas Smartscape, call your county extension office, or a local nursery.

Practical Turf Areas:
Keeping our lawns pretty and green takes a lot of water and generally greater maintenance than other vegetation.  Limiting turf to areas used for recreation and other functional purposes will reduce your landscape water needs.  Avoid using turfgrass in areas that are hard to water such as steep slopes, or odd-shaped and narrow spaces.  Consider replacing little-used turf areas with other types of landscaping and water-stingy plants.

Remember to Mulch:
Mulching is one of the easiest and best things you can do in your landscape.  Placing mulch around trees and plant beds will minimize evaporation, moderate soil temperatures, inhibit weed growth, and help control erosion.  Organic mulches, like compost, shredded bark, and leaves, also improve soil conditions as they decompose.

Irrigate Efficiently
Too much water can be as harmful to plants as not enough water.  The goal of efficient irrigation is to reduce water losses by only using as much water as needed to keep your plants healthy.  When irrigating take into consideration soil type, plant condition, season, and weather conditions – rather than watering on a fixed schedule. 

Manual watering with a hand-held hose tends to be the most water-efficient method.  According to the AWWA Research Foundation’s outdoor end use study, households that manually water with a hose tend to use 33 percent less water outdoors than the average household. 

Even the most water-efficient irrigation system can waste water depending on how often and how long it is allowed to run.  To make irrigation systems more efficient, install system controllers such as rain sensors or soil moisture sensors, which turn on sprinklers only when soil moisture levels drop below pre-programmed levels. 

Remember to revise your watering schedule as the seasons change.  Over-watering is a common occurrence in the fall when summer irrigation schedules haven’t been adjusted in response to cooler temperatures. 

The best time to water is early in the morning or late in the evening (before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.) when it’s cooler.  When you water during the heat of the day, up to 30 percent of your water can be lost to evaporation.  Using soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems, which deliver water directly to the plant’s roots, will also help minimize evaporation losses.

Provide Regular Maintenance
Using native and adapted plants will help you establish a low-maintenance landscape, not a “no-maintenance” landscape.  A water-efficient landscape still requires regular pruning, weeding, fertilization, pest control and irrigation.  However, the maintenance needs of a water-efficient landscape should decrease over time as plants mature. 

Water and fertilize plants only as needed.  Too much water promotes weak growth and increases pruning and mowing needs.  Over-fertilizing can create excessive growth, increasing required maintenance and water needs. 

Additional Resources:
Water-Efficient Landscaping: (USEPA)