One of my pet peeves is people who don't conserve natural resources. I cringe when I see someone throw away an aluminum can. I get hot under the collar when I see a lone person driving around in a Hummer. I've been known to stalk people who litter and then confront them.
But by far the worst offenders for me are water wasters. When I'm walking in my neighborhood in the middle of the afternoon and I see sprinklers spinning away, it makes me irritable. Or when I witness a neighbor watering every day - even every other day - I want to throw my arms up in disgust at the wasteful display.
Americans are obsessed with their lawns, and turf grass is problematic in summer's hot months because it just guzzles water. Many homeowners tend to overwater, which is why 30 percent to 50 percent of all domestic water used goes toward landscaping. In fact, according to Go For Green, The Active Living and Environment Program, the average suburban lawn gobbles up about 11,800 gallons of water every summer. The organization suggests using drought-tolerant meadow plants (for sunny spots) or shade-loving ground covers that don't require water.
Water restrictions may very easily be in our future, so now is the time to use water-wise strategies as a way of life before it's required as an emergency measure.
6News meteorologist Matt Sayers says rain totals for June 1 to Aug. 9 were slightly lower than average. But last year's rain totals for the same period were higher than average.
"One theory associated with global warming is that the yearly patterns will be more extreme," Sayers explains. "For instance, extremely cool and wet one year followed by extremely hot and dry the next year."
While this isn't Sayers' theory and he declines to speculate on something as random as weather, we gardeners may want to take heed and prepare our green spaces with plants that will thrive in any conditions Mother Nature throws our way.
Here are some ideas that any gardener can employ to reduce the time and money spent on the pesky chore of watering:
¢ Consider a cheaper alternative to a lawn, such as a ground cover.
¢ Extend the patio areas, walkways and other hardscapes to reduce the lawn size.
¢ Group plants together that have similar water requirements.
¢ Sow plants that need a lot of water near downspout and run-off areas.
¢ Use rainwater, captured in a bucket, to water plants.
¢ Place drought-tolerant plants in the north and west of gardens so they'll shelter less drought-tolerant plants from the drying effects of prevailing winds.
¢ Plant native flora.
¢ Consider installing a water-efficient drip irrigation system.
Annuals: ¢ Dusty Miller ¢ Lantana ¢ Marigold ¢ Bachelor's button ¢ Mexican zinnia ¢ Rose moss ¢ Gazania
Perennials: ¢ Aster ¢ English lavender ¢ Creeping phlox ¢ Coreopsis ¢ Yarrow ¢ Butterfly weed ¢ Evening primrose ¢ Thyme ¢ Russian sage ¢ Yucca ¢ Juniper ¢ Ornamental grasses
Shrubs: ¢ Butterfly bush ¢ Rockspray cotoneaster ¢ Blue Mist spirea ¢ Fragrant sumac
Jack Landgrebe, a Lawrence Master Gardener, has taken water conservation to heart.
"I realized several years ago that my water bill was getting on the high side and it was taking too much of my time to be constantly running around changing sprinkler locations in my garden," he says. "I instituted several changes, such as the automatically timed sprinklers and soaker hoses. It seems to have made a difference in the water bill and my time commitment. It also adds the advantage of keeping the garden alive when you are out of town."
One of the methods Landgrebe has adopted is the use of soaker hoses, especially in areas that are narrow and close to his home.
"They consume less water than conventional above-ground sprinklers and deliver it directly to the ground with less evaporation loss," he says.
A simple step like watering with the correct equipment can save gallons of water with each use - and that adds up.
Do it yourself
I'll close with suggestions for how to start your own xeriscape, a tailored landscaping scheme equipped to withstand dry conditions. Taking the time to enact a few or all of the following suggestions could save you big bucks on your water bill next summer and leave more time to enjoy your garden.
¢ Soil: Put top-quality soil in your beds. Soil has the ability to hold water and air, but it also prevents excess water from rotting plants. By applying quality soil, you can balance this act. Add organic matter, such as compost, which breaks down into a substance called humus. Humus binds the grains of sandy soil together to help it hold water. It also pulls clay soil particles apart, allowing excess water to drain from between them.
¢ Mulch: A layer of mulch helps cool the soil and slows down weed growth. Weeds will battle with your plants for moisture, so the fewer weeds the more water goes to its intended place.
¢ Water wisely: It's important to water in the mornings or evenings when moisture is less likely to evaporate before it gets to the plants. Water once a week in one application, but do it thoroughly (for an hour to 1 1/2 hours). Deep watering encourages the roots of plants to grow down in their search for water, and this is healthy. If you water too frequently, the water stays on the surface - and so will your roots.
¢ Less turf: How much grass do we really need? The dogs and the kids need a little for recreation, but you probably don't need nearly as much grass as you have. You might try thyme, vinca or creeping Jenny ground covers instead. They require much less water and no mowing!
¢ Right plants: Choose plants that are native to the area or just downright hardy in drought conditions.