From container plantings to lawns and gardens, the University of Minnesota Extension horticulture team is focusing on ways to help people use water wisely.
Extension horticulture educators Robin Trott and Julie Weisenhorn offer five easy steps to conserve water in your yard and garden.
1. Water thoroughly after planting, then once or twice a week. Apply enough water to wet the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches for trees and shrubs or 6 to 8 inches for annuals. If you're not sure how much water this is, do this easy test. Water your garden, wait an hour or so to allow the water to sink in, then dig a 1-foot hole. The soil at the bottom of the hole should be moist, but not sopping.
2. Water gardens in the morning and containers in the afternoon. Research shows that containers watered after noon outperformed plants that were watered in the early morning. The optimal watering time for the rest of the garden is early morning before the temperatures start to rise. Avoid evening watering; this can lead to fungal growth.
3. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Up to 70 percent of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day. Mulch is one of the best moisture holding tools available. Use coarse mulch at a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Rock mulch might look pretty, but rocks can heat up the soil in full sun.
4. Select plants that are drought tolerant. Many of these plants require less water throughout the season. Foliage color is a good way to to tell if a plant tolerates dry weather. Plants with silvery foliage, such as many herbs, are almost always drought tolerant. Examples include Artemisia, catmint and Perovskia (Russian sage). Other drought tolerant-flowering perennials include black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia, butterfly weed, Asclepias and obedient plant, Physostegia. More on drought-tolerant plants is available here (z.umn.edu/179c).
5. Increase organic matter in your soil. Organic matter absorbs many times its own weight in water, which is then available for plant growth. One of the easiest ways to build organic matter is to add compost that breaks down to humus. This has an amazing potential to hold moisture, nutrients and build soil health. It has a buffering effect against drought and plant stresses too.
Learn more about conserving water in your yard and garden at z.umn.edu/waterwisely,