In the landscape, watering at the right time of day is important. It is best to irrigate when the sun is low, the winds are calm and temperatures are cool. This will save water – as much as 30 percent – by reducing evaporative losses. The best time to water is early morning from a couple hours before sunrise until midmorning.
When irrigating, saturate the root zones. Roots are generally within the top 6 inches of soil. Let the soil dry between irrigations. Watering too frequently results in shallow roots, weed growth, disease and fungus.
Water in a way that runoff is reduced. It is best to irrigate at a rate that the soil can take up the water being applied. You do not want irrigation water going into a parking area or down the street. Water a couple times weekly instead of watering a little bit every day. Where is water being applied, take careful aim and target only the areas to be watered.
Conserving water doesn't have to involve a lot of trenching and plumbing. Whether you own an automatic irrigation system or not, there are many ways to save water in a landscape. These tips can be implemented as part of your normal landscaping and gardening routine.
– Aerate your lawn and around trees at least once a year to ensure good water penetration. Turn and cultivate soil, adding compost or fertilizer when planting. This helps the soil hold moisture and produces healthier plants that require less water to remain strong.
– Mulch well around flowers, shrubs and trees. Using 2-4 inches of mulch reduces evaporation, moderates soil temperatures, improves water penetration and helps control weeds that compete for water. Pine straw is the best mulch in Louisiana.
– Landscape to suit your lot. Evaluate conditions like sun and shade, dry and damp areas, the size plants you want now and at maturity, and how you want to use each section of your landscape.
– Purchase turf or plant species that have low water requirements and are well suited to the environment and the area of the yard where they will be planted.
– “Hydro-zone” your yard. That means grouping landscape plants with similar moisture needs in the same area. Separate them from turf areas, which have different water requirements.
– Plant in spring or fall when less water is needed to establish new plants. Smaller plants also need less water to become established.
– Create functional turf areas, for example, in play areas. Avoid using turf where it's difficult to irrigate properly, such as on steep slopes. Good alternatives for hard-to-irrigate areas are ground covers, perimeter plants and mulch.
– Plant shade trees to lower the air and soil temperatures. This will reduce soil moisture loss.
– Maintain your yard by mowing, weeding, pruning and irrigating as needed. A well-maintained yard requires less water.
All of this is important information for the horticultural aspects of using your irrigation system and watering your plants properly. Irrigation will continue to be important as we move through the rest of the Louisiana summer.
Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse or www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.