Linda Coyner's April Garden Edition, Cont'd
Other practices that make the most of your water.
1. To reduce evaporation and water loss, irrigate in the wee hours of the morning when temperatures are lowest and winds are calm.
2. Mow in the cooler part of the day so grass blades lose less moisture.
3. Adjust sprinklers so they're not watering driveways, walks, etc.
4. Divert downspouts from paved areas onto lawns or beds.
5. Use automatic shut-off nozzle for hoses.
6. Add a rain sensor to your irrigation system if you don't already have one.
Rethink the amount of lawn you have
A good rule of thumb is to restrict turf area to 35% of your property. Save the turf for where you most need itwhere you walk. Increasing groundcover, installing landscaped beds, mulch under trees, converting yard space to patios or decks and adding shade trees are great ways to reduce turf area and add interest to your landscape. Lawns make our flower beds look great but it doesn't take much lawn to achieve the effect, especially if it's neatly edged. Instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, think of the lawn as a strategically placed area rug. Start by removing lawn where it doesn't do wellwhere it's shady or steep, where the drainage is poor or the soil depleted, or where there're too many tree roots. Replace it with beds of native plants, which, once established, are accustomed to the natural rainfall in a given area.
For more information about native plants recommended for your state, see the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's on-line directory of native plants (http://wildflower.avatartech.com/Plants_Online/Native_Plants/native.html).
Who said lawns have to be grass?
Native grasses can be used instead of the usual bluegrass or Bermuda. Consider buffalo grass, mixed fescues, or sedges. For more information about sedge lawns, see the Brooklyn Botanical Web site at http://www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/sustainable/handbooks/lawns/5.html. Another good source for information is LessLawn.com, a Web site about creating sustainable landscapes using low-maintenance, organic, and wildlife-friendly techniques. It has a good article on native-grass lawns (http://www.lesslawn.com/article1010.html) and references to books on the subject.
In South Florida, we're experimenting with peanut and mimosa as replacements for St. Augustine. Both use much less water and can be walked on. Perennial peanut, Arachis glabrata, has the advantage supplying its own nitrogen. Since it is a legume, it can fix atmospheric nitrogen. The plant sports the typical bean-family yellow flower. Mimosa (M. strigillosa), also called powderpuff, hugs the ground with dark green leaves that fold at night. In spring and summer, fuzzy pink flowers emerge.
Other ground covers
Many other ground covers can be used if you don't need a walk-able surface. There's no shortage of local and regional lists from native plant societies or cooperative extension services on the Internet or on paper. The Rocky Mountain West is blessed with the Xeriscape Plant Guide: 100 Water-Wise Plants for Gardens and Landscapes by Denver Water and American Water Works Association (Fulcrum Publishing, $34.95), an excellent reference. It showcases the works of 31 Colorado artists, using photographs or line-drawings to reveal how plants look spring, summer, fall, and winter. Even thought it was written for western North American, it's information should apply to most of North America and other parts of the world with similar climates and elevations to the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and western prairies.