Like Out West, Xeriscaping Saves Water In The East

April 26, 1992|By William C. Ward | William C. Ward,Staff Writer

It sprang up in the dry, drought-stricken West where water is at a premium -- ideal conditions for its survival. Spreading slowly East, it replaced traditional forms and changed the landscape across America-- literally.

"It" is water-conserving landscaping, and officialsat the Anne Arundel County Department of Utilities and the state Department of Natural Resources hope it grows and thrives here, too.

Simply put, water-conserving landscaping is increasing the efficiency of a landscape to cut water use, increase the efficiency of irrigation and retain water.

Linda Currier is the administrator of water-conserving landscaping for the county Department of Utilities.

"The whole idea is: Don't let the water run off the landscape," she said.

According to Currier, many of the things homeowners can do interms of water-conserving landscaping are inexpensive and save moneyin water consumption the long run.

The important features of water-conserving landscapes are limited turf, or grass areas; low water-use plants; efficient irrigation; improved water-retaining soil; and appropriate maintenance.

"There's always some maintenance involved," said Don Myers, coordinator for the Helen Avalynne Tawes Garden at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Annapolis.

Myers has begun to transform a section of the Tawes Garden through "xeriscape,"the DNR term for water-conserving landscapes.

"I think it's Greekfor dry(-scape)," Myers guessed, referring to the term.

Whatever it means, the xeriscaped area will offer visitors a peek at a new, sensible approach to landscaping.

"It was a little trickier to do than I expected," he said. "We really had to look rather thoroughly for(plants) that would work well."

Currently under development, Myers says the section "should result in some cost savings to the state,"in terms of water usage.

His advice for people who want to try xeriscape at home?

"They might want to think about it as something they work towards over a number of years."

But don't be discouraged. There are some simple, cheap things you can do to conserve water --without even changing your lawn. These are common sense tips that will go a long way to lowering your water bill. Currier suggests that you:

* Water the lawn only when it needs it. Be sure any automatic watering systems are shut off when the lawn is moist. You can check moisture by sticking a pencil 4-to-6 inches into the ground. If the tip is wet, watering is unnecessary.

"I've seen people water when it's raining out," she said.

* Water early in the morning. Watering later in the day will lead to evaporation, and evening watering will leave the topsoil moist leading to diseases such as powdery mildew.

* Water slowly and deeply, preferably using drip irrigation consisting of a shallow-buried hose or plastic pipe with holes pricked in it. This puts the water where you want it and allows it to percolate down to the roots. Misting and spraying leads to evaporation and throwswater where you don't want it.

* Sweep rather than spray your driveway clean.

* Divert rain gutter drain water to your plants and lawn. You can use rain barrels to collect the water for later distribution.

"If you can just collect the water from the sky, why not?!"

* Set your lawn mower to cut your lawn higher. Having longer blades of grass will help protect it from the sun and help it retain water.

Limiting runoff is especially important. Runoff carries pesticides and fertilizers into the Chesapeake Bay, where they wreak havoc onmarine life.

* Use companion plants or other insects to repel insect predators. Marigolds repel certain pests, and a gentle soapy water spray can be used to eliminate others.

Pesticides and chemical fertilizers eventually end up in the Bay in runoff, so eliminating their use is an important part of xeriscape.

"These landscaping ideaspromote minimal use of pesticides. There are other ways to address aproblem than to dump chemicals on it," said Currier.

* Mulch all plant beds. This will retard weeds, cool the soil, reduce runoff and prevent evaporation. Mulch to a maximum of 3 inches deep, as deeper mulching suffocates plants. Make sure to ring and mulch all trees.

For those adventuresome homeowners who want to do more, actual landscaping is the next step.

This is a bit more complicated than just planting a bunch of trees. You must first step back and reconsider your entire lawn, and make decisions based on the unique conditions in your yard.

Where possible, you should:

* Choose drought-tolerantplants. A publication produced by the Department of Utilities called"Save Water, Maintenance And Money . . . And Help Save The Bay," lists important tips on water-conserving landscaping and contains a listof plants and trees that require little water.

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