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by Lee Ann Yates, Author; Barbara Brown, Editor

Watering our landscapes properly keeps plants, trees, shrubs, and lawns healthier and reduces the need for pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers by not stressing plants with over-or under-watering. Under-watering plants, including adapted and non-native plants, can lead to an early death. While over-watering your lawn or landscape causes run-off into our watershed sometimes with harmful chemicals.

The first thing to do: if you have an in-ground irrigation system, make sure all of your sprinkler heads work properly. Maintaining and auditing in-ground sprinkler systems once each year increases watering efficiency and effective distribution. It would be best to use a Certified Irrigation Specialist to do this. Consider replacing older sprinkler heads with more efficient, targeted heads. That efficiency can translate into savings on your water bill.

Whether you use in-ground or above-ground sprinklers, one inch of water per week is all that is needed to keep your landscape healthy and beautiful, except in the driest times. You can check how much watering it takes to get one inch by performing a catchment test in your landscape using small cans around your yard and flower beds. Small clean cat food or tuna cans work well, but you can also purchase official catchment cups. Run your sprinklers until one inch of water collects in the cans, notice the run time, and you have the information you need to lay an inch of water on your landscape once a week.

In the driest times of summer, run the sprinklers that calculated length of time twice a week. If your landscape is very dry, use the cycle-and-soak method by running your sprinklers for shorter periods over two or three cycles. Allow the water to soak in between cycles for a deep watering to soothe your plants’ thirst. Using a timer to control the amount of water going to different landscape areas saves effort and water. Find the link below to get directions for doing a "catch can test" to measure your output.

Another water conservation tip: Place plants with similar water needs together in your landscape, a practice known as hydro-zoning. That makes it easier to use your sprinkler system efficiently. If you are not sure of a plant’s water needs, check the plant tag. Usually, the tag specifies water and light requirements or you can do a quick search for information on growing that type of plant in North Central Texas.

For some garden or landscape areas, switching to a drip irrigation system delivers water efficiently to the roots of the plants where it is most needed while also conserving water. Drip irrigation reduces the likelihood of some diseases and pests on too-wet or too-dry plants and grasses, reduces water loss due to evaporation, and can be easily adapted to patio pots and hidden under plant leaves and mulch. The link below provides a description of drip irrigation system components and instructions for setting up.

Collecting or harvesting rainwater around your property in rain barrels or cisterns offers many benefits for your landscape. Rainwater provides pH-neutral, salt-free water, perfect for plants' root growth. You can buy rain barrels from big box stores or the internet, but building them yourself is a relatively easy and affordable DIY project.

Using rainwater saves you money, reduces demand on the municipal water system in drier times, and efficiently uses natural resources. Instead of building an ark, rain barrels or large cisterns can reduce the damage caused by periodic flooding after those heavy rains we sometimes get, thereby slowing erosion and run-off contamination from chemicals to surface water.

HOAs once prohibited the use of rain barrels, but no more. They can restrict where you place the barrels, but usually, that means having them at the back of your house and not in your front-facing landscape. You would be amazed at how much water you can save from the roof of your home!

Spend some time NOW re-thinking your landscape irrigation, get problems fixed, re-evaluate, and start cleaning tuna cans and building rain barrels! You will reap the rewards this summer when it's too hot to do more than run through your sprinklers – you know you will want to!

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