Confessions of a Water Conservationist

Several years ago I was asked to write an article about water conservation for our local newspaper. At the time I was immersed in the ideals of making everything in my landscape “responsible”. This effort took several growing seasons and required much patience. Something I am not known for. In an earlier article I had professed my sheer inability to wait. I used a quote my mom has said to me many times, “You know all those gardens you love, yours will look like that in thirty years, too.” THIRTY YEARS, who is she talking to? I can hardly wait for the lettuces to sprout in early spring. But, low-and-behold I have been here for 8 growing seasons and the yard is fantastic. On to my confession…

The ideas I insisted that people utilize to conserve water are things we really try to do ourselves. We live in the high desert with a river valley passing through the center. When Lewis & Clark came upon this land, they exclaimed, “Les Bois”. After crossing what is now called Crater’s of the Moon National Park, I’m sure the narrow ribbon of shrubs, sage brush and gingko trees seemed an oasis in this dry land. Therefore, water responsibility is paramount in our area and any other. Things I suggested in the Statesman piece were:

Check your sprinkler heads, are they pointing in the right direction, are they watering things like driveways, sidewalks or the street? Adjust them or change them to have the correct spray pattern.

Train you grass to grow deeper roots. Most turfs only require 1-2 inches of water per week. If watered correctly this amount will penetrate your soil and give the correct moisture to your lawn. The way to find out how deep your watering cycle is absorbing: Manually water an area in your yard where you can get a core sample without ruining the landscape. Either put a hose-run sprinkler on or turn on this zone in your system. Let it run for 30 minutes, turn it off, let it soak in for 1 hour and then remove a shovel wedge of soil from that area. How deep is the water? It needs to be at least 12 inches. If it is not, then adjust the time by approximately 5 minutes per inch. For example, I live in the river valley of our city, therefore my soil is a combination of sand and loam. Water travels very quickly through my dirt. But I still need to leave each zone of my system on for at least 45 minutes. I only do this once per week and then hand water plants that need a little extra during hot weather. Yet, the landscapes on the benches above our river valley have sandy soil with large pockets of clay and caliche, so their lawns and garden require different watering requirements.

Fix sprinkler and faucet leaks immediately.

Plant native plants and select only a few specimen plants that require more water to add in your beds.

Practice square foot gardening for fruits and vegetables.

When letting water heat up from the tap, capture the unwanted water in a pitcher and add it to a five gallon bucket or water barrel for watering houseplants, animals and outside containers.

Wash fruits and veggies over a bowl and add this gray water to your rain barrel or bucket.

These ideas are simply a springboard to inspire you to consider ways to conserve water. So, my confession cannot be held back any longer.

Although we try to consistently do all of these practices, there are times when they are not as practical as paper makes them. For example:

After my initial check of the sprinkler heads, adding drip lines etc. I left them for a couple of seasons without checking them thoroughly. The result, the areas that had grown up were not allowing the heads to water efficiently. Some plants were being overwatered while the outer plants were under stress from lack of water. I lost many plants that year. I was not wasting water but due to the plant loss I still wasted money by letting these plants die.

We have a very draught tolerant turf that was originally called Bonsai Turf, it is now called dwarf fescue, The Turf Company has dedicated endless years to perfecting it. The root system on most turfs only grow 6-8 deep and if your watering practices are not correct then it is even more shallow. This lends to a very unhealthy lawn over the long haul and it wreaks havoc on your water bill. Check out their site to educate yourself on this form of turf. The dwarf fescues grow much deeper and are far more healthy as a lawn and on your budget. As for our lawn, being an original version, it will not spread. This fact was glorious because it doesn’t spread into your flower beds, but the downside is that when an area dies, it will not fill in. So, in my laziness to not drive the 25 miles to get the fescue seed from The Turf Company I used whatever was convenient to fill in bare spots and now I am a slave to keeping those areas as nice as the fescue. Don’t compromise as I have done.

We have a large silver maple that simply eats several places in our sprinkler line every year. The value of the shade it provides to far greater than the tedium of fixing endless leaks. But, two years ago I left a leak all summer. My logic was; oh it’s giving the tree extra water, how bad can that be? Simultaneously, we had a leaky bathroom faucet and tub. The house is over 100 years old and there is not a shutoff for this bathroom. We have to open the main cover and shut all the water off. Major Hassle! When I received my 3 month water bill. I my eyes bulged, my throat closed up and I felt SICK! It was well over $400, up from an average of $60. As you can imagine, we got the shovel out and took care of business.

We used to let the water from the shower and tub run into a bucket, but we have cut back to only conserving what comes from the kitchen sink. We had to find a balance because when it came right down to it, we could reuse all that water in the summer, but in winter it became too much of a commitment. But in writing this confession, I’m realizing that I really should resume and use that water to give our large trees a drink in the winter.  They really need it if you are in an area that does not get regular precipitation in winter months.

I have bared my master gardener soul and I hope that my initial tips will inspire you and my confessions with help you to stay the course of wise stewardship of our resources and the creation we enjoy called EARTH!


2 Responses to “Confessions of a Water Conservationist”

  1. People who understands bonsai knows that practices of wiring is used not to bind the tree and restrict growth, as is sometimes imagined, but to redirect growth.

  2. Hi– I read your site and love it, but could you include more info on growing them outdoors. Do you think this is possible in Alabama?

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