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Xeriscape Principles Apply To Gulf Coast
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
In Nocona, Texas, which is close to where I grew up, they have declared a water crisis, and residents can only water their lawn and plants one day a week. Stories like that are becoming all too common, and not just west of here.
Two years of prolonged drought have old-timers reminiscing about past droughts like in 1950. This also happened in the late 1970s, which led to the Denver Water Department developing the term "xeriscape" in 1981.
They realized that during a severe drought, a $25 rise in the monthly water bill meant an extra 25,000 gallons of water going to the yard. That 25,000 gallons would fill an 1,800 square foot home two feet deep in water! So you can only imagine the amount of water used when bills went up by $75 to $100.
Xeriscape means dry landscape, but many incorrectly think it to be "zero scape." I believe the seven aspects to xeriscaping are fundamental to good landscaping. If you are building or buying a home and the landscape is yet to be installed, try these xeriscaping principles.
- 1. Plan from the start that the landscape is to be water efficient.
- 2. Do a soil analysis to see if soil improvement needs to be done for better water absorption and holding capacity.
- 3. Lawns use more water and require more maintenance than groundcovers, so design the lawn for practicality. I'll admit I have too much lawn area.
- 4. Choose appropriate plants that are in tune with Mississippi. You don't have to plant cactus and you don't have to go all native, but choose plants known to be tough and free from constant problems.
- 5. By using an efficient irrigation system, you can instantly save 30 to 50 percent on your water bill.
- 6. Use mulches to help water penetration and prevent water loss through evaporation.
- 7. Use appropriate maintenance practices. Keep your grass taller, water deeply but less often, and keep weeds out (they use water too).
Most of us have felt like droughts will never really effect us. We think droughts only happen in the arid west, but I have seen Lake Lanier in Georgia where you could almost walk across it.
A colleague in my office recently played golf on one of the highly acclaimed courses near Auburn, Ala. One of the water holes that normally put fear in hackers like myself looked like it had been hit by hail as hundreds of golf balls were starting to show in the lake.
The fact is we are affected by drought. We're 15 inches below normal last year and close to 12 inches now, and no major relief is in sight.
But what about those of us who planted 57 azaleas and seven camellias last year, and have been trying to get grass established? The truth is water is critical to those plants' survival. The first two years trees and shrubs are in your landscape determines whether they get well rooted and established, and this takes water.
It is during times like this that a good, reputable irrigation company is worth every penny spent. Zoned irrigation systems allow micro-jet watering or drip to shrubs, while more conventional sprinklers are targeted to lawns. These allow us to maximize efficiency so we don't have to water what doesn't need it, and we can put the water directly where it is needed most.
With the severe drought still on us, should we reconsider our landscape design, plant selection and irrigation methods? You bet.