With the arrival of the autumn season and the onset of cooler temperatures, it’s tempting to put the past behind us and forget about the struggles we had during the summer. The historic drought and extreme conditions affected many homeowners, lawn care professionals and lawn grass managers. Some folks gave up on their lawns; others were motivated to make changes to their landscape practices to ensure future droughts cause minimal damage. Here at Nature’s Finest Seed, our drought-tolerant grass seed blends and dryland pasture mixes were a big hit. It seems water-wise landscaping is finally catching on as the public becomes more concerned about saving water and reducing maintenance costs around the yard.
Increase Irrigation Efficiency by Hydrozoning
It’s never too early to begin planning for next season. In fact, right now is the ideal time to “drought-proof” your lawn and garden for future water shortages. Start by redesigning or modifying your landscape. The way you arrange and lay out plants in your yard will have a huge impact on the way your landscape consumes water. Consider hydrozoning, the art of arranging plants together that have the same water requirements. For example, group your plants with the highest water requirements together, usually nearest to your house where you can monitor them the closest. This group is your high-water use area and can be set up on its own irrigation schedule. The next area is further away from the house and contains plants that have a moderate irrigation requirement, followed by your low-water use area which is usually found on the outskirts of your property. Through the practice of hydrozoning, it’s possible to customize irrigation schedules for each area’s needs, improving efficiency and avoiding overwatering and underwatering certain plants and grasses.
Improve Soil Conditions As Much As Possible
When installing a new landscape or amending a preexisting one, do everything possible to make sure soil conditions are optimal. Have a soil test preformed to see if your soil is lacking any vital nutrients or is low on organic matter. One of the biggest differences between a lawn that’s able to survive a drought and a lawn that will become seriously damaged is how much organic matter is present in the soil. Organic matter acts as a sponge to soak up moisture, retaining it in the soil and allowing plant roots to access it long after the first inch or two of soil surface has dried up. Organic fertilizers are a great way of restoring vital organic matter back into the soil. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn instead of bagging them is also a simple, easy way to do this.
Inspect Your Irrigation System
This time of the year is also the perfect time to get your irrigation system inspected by professionals. These irrigation “audits” will help keep your irrigation system running as efficiently and uniform as possible. Breaks, leaks and poor coverage patterns are inevitable especially as a system ages over the years, but are usually a simple fix. You may also want to consider installing a rainwater harvesting system to supplement your existing system. There’s nothing better than free water during a drought.
Select Water-Wise Landscape Plants
Finally, select grasses and ornamental plants that are well adapted to your area or are considered water-wise. Despite its reputation as being a water-guzzler, lawn grass can actually be very drought tolerant when certain species are used. Buffalograss, a North American native grass, has become very popular for its extremely low maintenance, low-water using properties. Unlike traditionally used Kentucky Bluegrass, Buffalograss is a warm-season grass and thrives during the hottest times of the year. It loves the heat, and while your neighbor’s Bluegrass wilts under the scorching summer sun, a Buffalograss lawn will remain a brilliant green with little irrigation or effort. It can be grown from Texas to North Dakota, and all the way to California. However, Buffalograss is not suitable for much of the East or Deep South as humidity levels are too high and soil conditions too moist. It also needs to be planted in the late spring or early summer as temperatures are heating up. When planning flower beds, use desert natives like the kind found in our Sonoran Desert or Southwest Wildflower seed blend. These wildflowers are adapted to the drier, hot conditions of the desert and are great for xeriscaping or other water-wise gardening practices.
This past summer was one of the hottest years on record. Don’t let the next major drought take you by surprise. We don’t know what next year has in store, but by following these suggestions you can enjoy a beautiful landscape no matter what nature sends your way.