Every year more than half of the water used by Colorado homeowners is applied to landscapes and gardens. Developing a better understanding of the amount of irrigation needed for a landscape will help achieve water efficiency. Northern Water offers a variety of resources and studies that can help you reduce water use and maintain your landscape expectations.
Before starting your landscape, begin by preparing your soil properly. Two of the soil types found on Colorado’s Front Range should be amended to improve irrigation effectiveness and increase the ability to retain water.
- Clay soils hold moisture tightly and have a low infiltration rate, so water must be applied slowly to avoid ponding or runoff. By adding organic matter, you can improve drainage, reduce soil compaction, promote deeper root zones and reduce irrigation frequency.
- Sandy soils hold very little moisture and drain quickly. Adding organic matter will improve moisture retention and promote a healthy lawn.
Also choose the right grass for your location. Bluegrass is a good choice for sunny, high-traffic areas. Bluegrass has a dormancy mechanism that helps in times of drought. Fine fescue is a turf for shady areas, as it requires nearly 20 percent less water. If you have low traffic areas, you may consider buffalo and blue grama which are native, warm season grasses that tolerate drought and infrequent irrigation. Consider turf alternatives such as low water use shrubs, groundcovers, grasses, plants, mulches, decorative rock, walkways or a patio to reduce your use of water.
Choosing plants for your landscape can be overwhelming with all of the choices available. Northern Water’s Conservation Gardens provides numerous plant ideas that will save water without sacrificing your desire for a beautiful landscape. Water-saving plants require less irrigation, reduce costs and may better withstand droughts and water restrictions. The Conservation Gardens contain more than 700 low water use plants and materials, from shrubs and small trees to perennials and groundcovers.
The Conservation Gardens are free and open to the public daily during daylight hours. Take an online tour of the gardens.
Saving Water on Lawns & Gardens
Once you’ve taken the time to choose your lawn and plants, you will also want to make sure you’re watering efficiently. This is a great time to ensure your sprinkler system doesn’t have any leaks that could increase your water utility bill. Leaks may be caused by broken sprinkler heads, malfunctioning values, cracked lines or sprinkler head damage. As you check for leaks, also do an audit of your system components. Replace any old sprinkler heads and install a smart controller to help regulate your watering demands. If you need help, use CSU Extension’s Lawn Irrigation Self Audit or pursue a Slow the Flow Audit from Resource Central.
Prevent overwatering by measuring how much water you apply to the landscape. Water less in spring, late summer and early fall when plant and lawn water demands are lower. By seasonally adjusting the sprinkler controller you can save a significant amount of water. Measure your water use with the online Hydrorain Irrigation Audit App.
Water application rates vary throughout the watering season. In midsummer, under ideal conditions, you should apply 1 to 1.5 inches of water to your lawn no more than once per week for clay or loamy soils. Sandy soils may need to water over several days so water does not migrate below the root zone. If you notice standing water or runoff, use the “cycle and soak” method where you water for shorter intervals with several start times per cycle. Just remember to adjust the irrigation controller monthly based on the weather conditions.
Use these tips to understand your lawn's water needs:
- If a screwdriver can be easily inserted 3 to 4 inches into the ground you don’t need to water.
- Water when footprints or mower tracks become clearly visible and remain for 20 minutes or more, or when the lawn takes on a bluish-gray color.
- Water from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. - or when allowed by your water provider's rules - not during the heat of day or when the wind is blowing
- Set sprinklers to only water the landscape, not sidewalks, driveways or other areas
Maintaining Lawn & Plants
With your new landscape installed, now is time to make sure you maintain it. By preparing your soil, selecting the right plants and understanding the landscape watering needs, you're already on the right path. Now it's time to maintain a healthy landscape. Here are some tips to follow:
- Mow your lawn 3 inches high to keep it healthy. Never remove more than one-third of the total grass height during a single mowing. If your grass gets too tall, increase the mower height and remove grass during several cuttings to reduce lawn stress.
- Fertilization and core aeration maintains a healthy lawn. Turf needs fertilizer to remain healthy and out-compete weeds. Core aeration will break up thatch and compacted soil, allowing water and air to penetrate deep into the root zone. Aerate your lawn in the spring and if you have heavy clay soil repeat in the fall.
- Regularly prune plants promote plant vigor and improve appearance. For many varieties of trees and shrubs, the best seasons to prune are winter or early spring but there are some exceptions depending on the variety. Familiarize yourself with the plant and the proper pruning techniques before starting any cuts.
- Use mulches to conserve water and reduce weed growth. Mulches save water by reducing evaporation from the soil surface, increasing water retention and minimizing soil crusting. Organic mulches include garden waste, grass clippings and bark. Recommend inorganic mulches includes rock or crushed stone, this type of mulching can increase re-radiating heat to plant.
- Good plant health is the best pest and disease deterrent. Overwatering or wetting plant leaves for long periods can promote plant disease.