I've heard more than once that watering your lawn or landscaping is as simple as hooking up a sprinkler and letting it spray away. That's one way to do it, but it certainly isn't the best. Different plants need different amounts of water, and even the makeup of the soil can influence how often it needs water and how much. In this article, I'll be detailing some of the methods and techniques that will ensure the health of your plants and prevent you from wasting water (saving you some green!).
In this section, I'll be working under the assumption that you don't have a sprinkler system. If you did, I don't think you'd be reading this guide!
Grass is different from most plants, not only in the way it looks, but in the way that it crowds so closely together with other individuals. The roots form a thick mat which displaces a lot of the soil. As a result, it needs to be watered pretty frequently.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is folks watering their grass several times a day for only a short time. While this does keep the grass alive and green it also makes it much more susceptible to drought. When you water frequently the roots never reach for water so the grass ends up with a very shallow root system. With a shallow root system, the grass can't reach water that's retained in the soil underneath it so during a dry spell it will dry out a lot faster than a lawn with deeper roots.
So, what's the solution? Water your lawn long and thoroughly in the morning and the evening. This helps your lawn develop a healthy root system that reaches deeper into the soil where water and nutrients are better retained. The reason for watering in the morning and evening is that the sun isn't blazing down on your turf evaporating the water before it has a chance to permeate the soil. This will not only help your grass, it will help your wallet as well since it keeps you from wasting water! You should note, however, that watering at night is not recommended. This can foster mold/mildew growth.
Landscaped areas are a bit trickier than lawns, but also offer a lot of flexibility. The kinds of plants kept in landscape beds tend to have larger and deeper-reaching roots than turf grass does, and some cast shade to help prevent evaporation from the soil.
One of the best things you can do to help your soil retain water in a landscape bed is to lay down a thick layer of mulch. Mulch absorbs water, and it also prevents the sun from reaching the soil and evaporating the water. Mulch has the added benefit of providing nutrients and organic material to the soil, which will improve the health of the plants in the bed.
If you have extensive landscaped beds, drip irrigation can be an excellent solution. Drip irrigation uses a system of hoses and attachments to drip water directly on the plants root zone to maintain an ideal moisture level. This is far better for your plants than a cycle of drought and abundance, because it encourages the plants to root deeper, which you'll remember from the section on lawns is great for plants. This method is great when used in conjunction with mulch because it won't wash away the mulch like overhead irrigation can.
Thatch is the layer of dead blades of grass that form against the surface of the soil. Dethatching can be performed to remove the dead clippings as they can become an eyesore over time if they build up too much, but by and large they're not a problem to the health of your lawn. A thin layer of thatch is perfect for helping your lawn's soil retain moisture.
Different types of soil retain different amounts of water. Sandy soil won't retain water as well as soil with a higher clay content. Most of the soil in our area tends to have more clay content, so it's pretty good at holding onto moisture. While on the surface this seems like a good thing, overwatering with this type of soil can cause problems such as root rot.
It's good idea is to select plants native to our area. They are better adapted to the conditions here so they'll be more likely to thrive than non-native plants. Succulents like Sedum and Hens and Chicks are very drought resistant, so if you're looking for low-maintenance, they're a perfect choice.