7 Steps to a Successful Landscape
1. Planning & Design
Establish three water-use requirement zones. Group plants and turf with similar water needs in the same zone:
- Low: Requires little or no supplemental water after establishment.
- Moderate: Requires some supplemental water during dry periods.
- High: Limited areas where full water requirements are easily met.
The "high" zone should be the most visible area of the landscape, such as an entranceway or patio area. Helpful Tips:
- Plan for Shade : A shaded landscape can be as much as 20 degrees cooler and water evaporates less quickly than a planting area in full sun.
- Arbors, trellises, and fences with vine covers can be effective sources of shade and help retain moisture.
- Azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds, and Japanese maples are good choices for moderate water-use zones.
2. Soil Analysis
Test Your Soil
Take a sample of your soil and mail it to your local county extension office. Soil test kits are available at Pike Nurseries. The analysis will help you understand what is needed to encourage a strong, healthy root system. Strong roots help plants absorb moisture and survive drought.
Improve the Structure of Poor Soil
To check the structure of soil, dig a 12" to 15" hole. Fill the hole with water to see how fast it drains. If the water remains in the hole more than 12 hours, the soil is poorly drained. Improvements will vary based on soil structure. Helpful Tips:
- When planting trees and shrubs, dig holes at least 2 times wider than the root ball to encourage roots to grow outward.
- For soils that dry out rapidly, incorporate organic matter into the native soil throughout the planting bed.
3. Appropriate Plant Selection
Choose plants that will thrive in your local environment: Plants prone to drought stress, such as azaleas and dogwoods, prefer moist, well-drained soil, while more drought-resistant plants, such as crape myrtle and juniper, grow well on very dry sites. Place plants with high water requirements in areas that stay moist naturally, and plants with low-water requirements in drier areas. Helpful Tip: Native plants are not necessarily the most drought tolerant.
4. Practical Lawn Areas
Practical lawn areas include:
- Small areas near the home entrance
- Recreational areas
- A blanket of turf on a slope prone to erosion.
Irrigate turf only in high-impact, visible areas of the landscape. During drought periods, healthy turf-grass may wilt and turn gray or brown, but it should regain its normal color and growth when it receives adequate water. Design turf areas in practical shapes that can be mowed and irrigated easily. Avoid sharp angles and long, narrow strips.
5. Efficient Irrigation
Use more efficient irrigation methods. Drip irrigation systems and automatic controllers that detect rainfall and turn off the irrigation system, are good examples. Hand watering is effective for watering selected plants that show signs of drought-stress.
6. Use of Mulches
Mulches conserve moisture by slowing evaporation and maintaining even moisture. The best mulches to retain moisture are pine straw, pine-bark mini-nuggets, pine bark mulch or cypress mulch. Fine-texture mulches hold moisture better than coarse-textured mulches, such as large-nugget pine bark. Rock, gravel and marble are not as effective, since they absorb and re-radiate heat, increasing water-loss. Helpful Tips:
- Apply about 2-3 inches of mulch under ornamental plants. Use hands to pull mulch back 2-3 inches from the base of the tree or shrub to prevent wood rotting disease.
- Extend the mulched area 2-3 times the canopy spread to help protect outgrowing root systems.
- Place newspaper (2 sheets thick) or shredded newspaper under organic mulch to help conserve water. Wet the mulched area and newspapers thoroughly after applying the mulch.
7. Appropriate Maintenance
Generally, an established turf area needs only 1" of water once every 7 to 10 days. Over-watering encourages shallow root growth, causing grass to lose its ability to survive drought and low rainfall. Helpful Tips:
- Water in the early morning hours (between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.) to slow down evaporation.
- Water slowly and deeply so soil absorbs water 6" to 8" deep.
- Use slow-release fertilizers and reduce application rate after establishment. This is particularly important prior to or during dry periods.
- Leave grass clippings on turf to supply recycled nutrients and reduce the need for additional fertilizer.
- During warm weather, raise the mower blade and cut the grass higher to encourage deeper rooting. This improves survival during drought and reduces water demand.
- Always keep the mower blades sharp. Dull blades shred leaf tips, causing the turf to use more water.
- Relieve soil compaction to increase air and water movement into the soil by aerating when required, especially on slopes.