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Water-Wise Gardening in the Southwest

Water is one resource that can’t be manufactured, and despite all the technological advances made over the decades, water still dictates where and how we live.  In the Southwest, rapid commercial and residential development has put increased demand on available water supplies, and with years below-average rainfall, local municipalities have put the brakes of domestic water consumption with water-conservation regulations and usage restrictions.

When faced with hot, dry weather, and higher utility bills, homeowners must get creative in conserving water and increasing savings. Reducing your consumption can start with looking out your front window. What do you see? If the answer is a large expanse of grass, get out your spade. Watering lawns accounts for a large percentage of water usage in households, particularly in arid climates. Rip out the lawn, and then rent a roto-tiller to turn over the soil. Then, you can place plastic sheeting over the area and stake it in place for a few weeks. Hot sun and resulting high temperatures will kill any remaining roots or grass seed.

What to use in place of grass? There are many alternative ground covers that look attractive and require no irrigation. Decorative pea gravel, bark mulch and river rock are inexpensive options. A newer product, rubberized, recycled mulch, stays in place and looks tidy. Now that your water-greedy lawn is gone, update your irrigation systems to make them more efficient. If you have in-ground sprinklers, install an automatic timer with multiple zones so you don’t waste water on plants that don’t need it. Smart irrigation doesn’t have to be expensive — simple soaker hoses snaked through your perennial beds deliver water directly to the soil where plants soak it up. You minimize wasted water on evaporation and spillage.

Think shade in summer, particularly on the west and south-facing exposures of your property. Large, vented garden umbrellas provide an instant and portable shelter for potted plants and awnings attached to your home shade planting beds as well as the interior of the house.

When hot, dry weather and water restrictions turn your water-thirsty plants brown and sickly replace them with drought-tolerant plantings. Plants native to the Southwest have adapted to deal with low-water conditions and are more available in commercial nurseries than ever before. Plants such as salvias or sages provide you with color and interest in the yard as well as provide food and shelter for birds and honeybees. Succulents do well in dry shade, and cactus plants thrive in well-draining soil and full sun. Landscaping for water conservation saves you money as well as improving your home’s curb appeal. Smart gardening lets you make a positive difference in our thirsty nation.


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