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My Earth Day contribution...

My husband actually told me to blog about this. I think he's tired of me "tsk tsking" on the back porch at our Church of the Right Angle Worship neighbors on a daily basis. Quick disclaimer for skimmers: I am a Master Gardener for the state of Texas, part of my function is to educate the public on responsible land stewardship. So... that was your clue to keep skimming. WAIT! It's IMPORTANT!



Currently my home state is in a drought, North and Central Texas in particular. Ranchers are reduced to slaughtering their animals because there is no water for them. (Seeing old timer farmers crying on the news because they're sick about having to kill their herds to spare the animal's suffering is enough to break your heart.) It's not been this bad since 1957 when Central and West Texas hit dust-bowl proportions. So I'm filled with GLEE when I see my neighbors running their sprinklers every single day. In the late afternoon. When it's windy. Because it is important to soak that concrete to help it grow and... that's not right. [/sarcasm] On average, 25% of the potable water in our country goes to LAWNS. Not our bodies, not our crops, our LAWNS. Much of that is lost to evaporation or run-off. The biggest waste of water is from applying too much too often. Excessive irrigation leaches the soil of nutrients, which then pollutes the ground water. And if there's excessive fertilizer on the lawn, that gets carried into the lakes and streams, and pollutes them, as well.

Have you ever seen a house with sickly, yellowing leaves on the shrubs? Or bright red leaves among the yellowing, sickly leaves? Number one indicator of over-watering. Which, by the way, is the number-one reason for plant death: over-watering.

Obviously I'm not going to be crazy and suggest that you don't have an emerald putting green at your home. That's crazy talk. Currently I live on a third of an acre with Bermuda grass. Last year I ran my sprinkler system four times. For the year. The whole year. In Texas. With triple digits in August. This year I've run my system once. My lawn is every bit as green as Right Angle's. How is that possible? Very easily. The key is to water long and deeply, and at the correct time of the day. And I have a xeriscape landscape. That usually conjures up images of gravel and yucca plants. Anyone that saw my gardening pictures the other day knows that isn't the case. Xeriscape means: good design based on your soil's condition, practical turf areas, appropriate plant selection - things that grow in your area, in other words, efficient irrigation, and use of mulches.

A xeriscape garden should decrease your maintenance by 50%.

The number one user of resources in a landscape is the lawn. You may not believe this, but grass needs more water than perennials, trees, shrubs, etc. How often do you mow? And now... how often do you deadhead your flowers? Having less lawn and more garden beds will decrease your need for maintenance, believe it or not. But not everyone wants gardens, so how do you know when to water? Should there be a schedule? The key is to LOOK at your lawn. Believe it or not, the grass will give clear indications that it needs to be watered. The blades will curl inwards, they'll begin to lose their luster, and when you walk on it, it may not spring back. THEN you need to apply one inch of water to the whole landscape.

So how do you do that? If you have a sprinkler system, it's very easy to determine how long your system needs to run to apply one inch. Use straight-sided cans (like cat food or tuna cans). Place them around the lawn and run your system. When the cans are 3/4 filled, mark the time your system ran, and there's your answer. However: if you have a sloped lawn, divide that time in half and run the system twice. You'll allow the water to be absorbed before it has a chance to run-off. This will also work with a manual sprinkler (the kind you played in as a kid).

So you've run your system (or drug the old back-and-forth sprinkler out), so when do you run it again? Every Saturday? Twice a week? It depends. Has your lawn began to show the signs of water need, as mentioned above? Or... have you stuck your finger in the ground to see if it's wet or dry? Easiest way to determine is to poke a finger in. If the top two knuckles on your pointer are moist when you've pulled it out, your lawn is fine.

The timing is important, as well. NEVER EVER RUN YOUR SPRINKLERS AT NIGHT. Not ever. NEVER. Wet plants + summer warmth = fungus among us. You've just created the best possible environment for all manners of baddies to thrive. NEVER EVER RUN YOUR SPRINKLERS DURING MID-DAY. OR IN THE WIND. OR WHEN IT IS RAINING. You laugh, but you know you've seen sprinklers running automatically during a rainstorm. Your sprinkler system should be on MANUAL. Here's an example:

My system (on manual) has nine stations. Based on my experiment with tuna cans, they all have a different time they run. It took me a day to set this up, but now I don't have to think about it. Nine systems, running on average 15 minutes a piece, and the whole system repeats once more. I have it set up to start at 4 am. It finishes around 7:30 am, just when the wind is starting to pick up - no sense in having the spray blown onto the sidewalk or street where it does my landscape no good. The absorption into the soil is almost complete by the time the sun really hits anything and causes evaporation, again, where it will do the landscape no good. The hotter it gets, I may set it to start at 3:30 am so it's finished before 7 am. The leaves will be dry throughout the day and not spend several hours in the cooler, damp conditions fungus and bugs prefer.

The idea in all of this is to get the water to move down through the soil to at least 6 inches. The problem with frequent and shallow watering is the roots grow horizontally, just under the surface, where they are more susceptible to drying out from hot winds, exposure from mowing too low, etc. The deeper the roots grow, the easier it is for your lawn to get its OWN water, thus reducing your need to apply water that you pay for. Bermuda, for example, will grow roots that are 18 inches long. One and a half feet. Incidentally, that's about how deep a TREE'S roots grow.

Here in Texas we have hard, clay soil that most people hate. The thing about clay is it holds water for a very long time. It's actually a benefit for us. Which is why I get away with not having to irrigate my gardens regularly. Those that have sandy, loose soil will obviously have to water more often. But as sandy soils tend to exist in areas of higher rain percentages... Not really - the need to add ADDITIONAL water isn't great. Again, stick your finger in. Top two knuckles dry? Time to water.

So here is my water waste rant. We are rapidly running out of potable drinking water in the world, and it's something so simple to fix, this one little aspect of our lives that uses a quarter of our entire supply of drinking water. I haven't even started on the fools that bag their clippings! Or excessive fertilizing! (Which causes excessive growth, which in turns forces you to mow more often, which makes more bags of clippings for our landfills, which...)

For the record, here's a list of common grasses in the US and their watering/ physical maintenance needs, one being the greatest need, ten being the least.

1. Tall fescue
2. bluegrass
3. ryegrass
4. centipede grass
5. seashore paspalum
6. St. Augustine
7. hybrid bermudagrass ("Tif" and "409" - used primarily on golf courses)
8. zoysiagrass
9. common bermuda
10. buffalo (requires NO additional irrigation - survives on rainfall only)

Last note: the more organic material you can incorporate into your landscape, the better water retention you'll gain. Applying a layer of compost to your landscape in the early spring when the lawn is beginning to green up, and again in fall when the lawn is beginning to decline and "sleep" for the winter is an excellent way to benefit your entire landscape. And LEAVE YOUR CLIPPINGS ON THE LAWN. Do not bag those clippings!!

*climbs off recycled material soap-box*

Thanks for listening, and the mojitos and nibblies are waiting everyone in the back yard.


*Statistics come from Texas A&M horticulture department, and the Texas Cooperative Extension, a division of TAMU.

Comments

( 50 comments — Leave a comment )
melbournegirl
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:23 am (UTC)
And here's mine.
Oh, word. We've got water restrictions in Melbourne at the moment, so I feel your pain. You should actually go and tell your neighbours. Not in a rude way, because there is a very good chance they just don't know (and, no, blogging doesn't count.)

Also, the amount of land fill being consumed by plastic shopping bags is ridiculous, not to mention the amount of oil being used up by a petroleum based products like plastics. Go buy some sturdy canvas/paper bags, the supermarket probably has them. They are really handy in general and it will ease your liberal white guilt.

Thanks for the lawn clipping tip.

P.S. If you can afford the initial cost, get solar power for your home. At the very least, you'll heat all your water. At the most, you'll never pay a power bill again and you might produce enough electricity to actually pump power back into the grid. Big sky state, I'm talking to you.
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:52 am (UTC)
Re: And here's mine.
We're nearing major restrictions here on water waste. And so you know, I *do* talk to the neighbors about it. There's a finesse to it, though - I don't want to come off a crank and piss them off, you know?

But this particular neighbor is just a crank. Well, he's about to be a crank with a violation fine to pay.

(And our energy company is 95% wind power - there's a small grassroots program building here to get more people to use that Big Sky. And that's why Kinky Friedman's getting my vote this coming state election. :D )
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stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:52 am (UTC)
Whoa! Thanks for reading it!

:D
smashsc
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:33 am (UTC)
yay, I love it when you talk Extension. (-:
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:53 am (UTC)
Mmmm, extension goodness. (How much do I love that YOU get it? Thiiiiiis much.)
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ruric
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:36 am (UTC)
Excellent rant. Would you believe we have the same problem in the UK?

Here in London and the South East in April (yes spring - not much sun yet) we're already on hosepipe bans. Our waterboards bring in a blanket ban with I believe quite hefty fines if youre caught watering your grass/garden using hosepipes/sprinkler systems when there is a water shortage. We're still allowed to lug watering cans around *g*

Xeriscape gardening and water conservation have been a pretty hot topic amongst the gardening circles for a number of years now - and the major garden shows (Chelsea, Hampton Court etc) are all pusing water conservation measures and planting schemes.
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 10:55 am (UTC)
Oh, sure: water waste is a huge problem in the developed Western Civ. (hee! I forgot the term is "hosepipe" there.) We're nearing our restrictions time - with hefty fines, etc. The problem here is, people have money, so they think that's all that's needed. "It costs more? I'll just cut back on buying a new Hummer and keep my putting green." Grrrr.

Part of what I do for the MG association is garden shows, etc.,and giving lectures on land stewardship. It's a lot of fun, and I'm always amazed at how little people know - and how much they want to know.
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yourlibrarian
Apr. 22nd, 2006 11:05 am (UTC)
I just wanted to tell you that you're not alone in this. It makes me downright itchy to see water wasted. Around here I generally don't see it in the lawn watering sense. Our apartment complex has no sprinklers and we live in a pretty agricultural area. It's individual habits that drive me nuts. It's all I can do not to slam off the water when I see someone in a restroom messing with their hair while water just pours uselessly out of the faucet.
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 11:32 am (UTC)
ACK!! Yes, yes! More places here have automatic faucets - when your hands are under the spout, it turns on, and then it turns off when you pull your hands away.

My kids are so used to this rant of mine, that I overheard them telling our new Canadian neighbors (unaccustomed to the heat, and had no idea we were in a drought here) that they wouldn't play in their sprinklers to cool off because it would be "wasteful." :D

(Not that I'm some self-righteous fist-shaker, or anything. I firmly believe in catching more flies with honey than vinegar.)
cordelianne
Apr. 22nd, 2006 11:16 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing! My mom used to work for Pollution Probe in the 1970s and employed similar practices to our garden up here in Canada. We always had the greenest lawn and we rarely watered (and of course we never ever used fertilizers). Reading your post, I've realized just how much thought and planning she put into the garden. My mom also had this lawn mowing technique in which she never cut the lawn too short.

I also get so annoyed seeing sprinklers watering concrete. When there was the big blackout in Ontario and the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., I thought it would be a wake-up call to people about the amount of energy they were wasting. But the next morning - when many areas were still without power and water - I walked to work through a ritzy shopping neighbourhood and they were washing down the sidewalks and roads!!
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
ACK ACK ACK!!! YES!! Oh, that one just KILLS me: using water to wash off your sidewalk. What the hell is wrong with a BROOM?

I will say that using fertilizer is fine, it's people who fertilize EVERY MONTH that kill me. And don't follow the instructions and put the wrong thing down, or way too much on their lawn. Here in North Texas, all we need (because of our soil type) is nitrogen. Which... is exactly what grass clipping consist of. :D

I do fertilize in the fall, to give the roots a full meal before it hunkers down for winter. But yes: a little planning goes a long way. (How cool that your mom did that!! Sounds like a fascinating experience.)
julia_here
Apr. 22nd, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
All fine ideas.

Especially the not running sprinklers at night, which, in the north and on the west coast, especially, will also lower soil temps sufficiently to effect plant growth and, in food gardens, fruit development and ripening time.

I combine a manual irrigation system and managed solar intake to regulate my house temperature, too- cooling the house overnight and in the early morning, covering and closing windows and strategically running sprinklers to lower outside air temperatures. In my part of the country, restricting the use of electricity for AC saves more instream flow than restricting water use, especially where groundwater withdrawal is the primary source of potable water.

The deal is: everyone needs to find out more about where their water comes from, and where it goes post use. Around here, it's still a common misconception that the groundwater we drink falls as snow on the distant mountains, when, in fact, it's almost all from local rainfall.

Julia, on a day that the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater have announced their intention to purchase the water rights to the "It's the Water" artesian springs.
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
All of our water comes from the lakes surrounding DFW. Which are at record lows.

I think people are more pissed that they can't take their toys out on the water right now, than realizing they're going to not be able to put in a pool this year. Or, you know... wash their car, runs their hoses in the day... :/
altyronsmaker
Apr. 22nd, 2006 01:15 pm (UTC)
OK.

I'm NOT a gardener, but Florida goes through it's drought periods, and Central FL is ALWAYS under water regulations. It bugs me, BUGS ME TO NO END to see irrigation systems on in the rain, at night, or, like you say, on windy days. Grrrr.

I'm so sticking this in my memories, because, hey! It's a smart effin post about an issue that still pisses me off with these doggone snobirds and their greener than Ireland lawns! Grrrraaarrrgg.

Thanks, stoney for the head up.
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
Oh in the RAIN. I just want to flick people between the eyes when I see that.

I used to live in Southern Utah - home of the red rocks desert. And people would try so hard to have hostas and hydrangeas and ferns and would water twice a day EVERY DAY.

In the DESERT. ...why did you move here, exactly? It's mind boggling.
timeofchange
Apr. 22nd, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, man, you're singing my song. Makes me crazy to see people water their lawns for a short time every day. Grrrrr. I live in Connecticut, where it rains a lot, for goodness sake. I rarely water my lawn. Even when it's hot and dry. Furthermore, every year, I have a little less lawn to water. Hee. My perennial beds and shrub beds are getting bigger as the lawns get smaller. More shrubs=less having to look at the road or the ugly neighboring houses.

/rant
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I can't imagine there being a high call for additional irrigation in Connecticut throughout the year.

And my goal is to get rid of most of my lawn entirely. Little by little... When Mr. S is gone. Heh. he has this idea that we NEED it. I keep pointing out how exhausted he is after mowing it. :D
tx_cronopio
Apr. 22nd, 2006 01:40 pm (UTC)
Great post! Perhaps you should mail the neighbors a copy :)
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
(ooh, great icon!)

Well, they've pretty much gotten the Live Version from me. Problem is, Right Angle Worshippers don't cotton to this young whippersnapper thinkin' she knows sumpthin about nothin', you see. I make a point of pulling a few of their weeds when I prune my wall garden that faces their house.

And saying it looks like a sign of over-watering. (which weeds typically are, for the record.) Some folks just don't believe young women, and that's all there is to it. :|
viciouswishes
Apr. 22nd, 2006 02:46 pm (UTC)
*loves on you* I grew up in the high desert, snow and then heat in the summer, and so much water was wasted on lawns during droughts. Also my uni totally runs the sprinklers at night and during rainstorms. We students joke that you can lose shoes on our lawn and fields, but it's kind of true. It's in a wet, coastal climate where they could, you know, rely mostly on rainstorms.
stoney321
Apr. 22nd, 2006 04:08 pm (UTC)
Why do people run the systems in rainstorms??

I wonder if anyone made a spreadsheet showing the money they'd save by NOT SPENDING IT ON WATER would convince them.

...probably not. People worship the almighty Green Square.
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entrenous88
Apr. 22nd, 2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
This is interesting stuff. I had always heard, growing up in New England, that you *should* water at night, because watering during the day would scorch the lawn. But it makes lots of sense to water in the early morning hours, as you do.
stoney321
Apr. 23rd, 2006 07:00 am (UTC)
*boggles at the concept that water would "scorch"*

Uh... if anyone can explain that philosophy to me, that'd be great.

All the daytime watering will do - as far as my understanding goes - is have a good percentage (at least 35%) carried off by wind, and another 35% minimum immediately evaporated into the atmosphere. And as it takes about 600 gallons of water for a 1,000 foot lawn to move through an inch... That's a lot of money down the tube, first and foremost. You've now got to run your sprinkler system more than three times longer to get proper irrigation!
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midnightsjane
Apr. 22nd, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
I hate it when I see water being wasted like this. I live in Vancouver B.C., where it rains almost all winter long, and often in the summertime too. Even so, we have watering restrictions from June until October, and those who water their lawns in spite of the restrictions are subject to fines. A couple of summers ago we had almost no rain from July 1st until September. I don't have a yard with grass, but I have a large container garden on the patio. I was so conscientious about not wasting water that I would use my bath water to water the plants; didn't want bad water karma!
I think we all need some educating about using water sensibly; thank you for your words of wisdom.
stoney321
Apr. 23rd, 2006 07:01 am (UTC)
Ha! I do that, too. If I need "hot" water, I'll fill up my water pitchers (bottles, etc.) with the cold water until it gets the temp I need.

Our old house didn't have any irrigation systems, so I relied on rainbarrels. We drilled a hole in the base, attached an on/off valve, and hooked up soaker hoses for the beds/lawn. It was great!
ex_dovil323
Apr. 23rd, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
Yes, yes! I applaude you. When you come over here *cough* you have to meet up with Dan the Plant Man - he's one of my bestest friends who will adore you - his job is teaching about plants, unfortunately after nearly 10 years all I can do is point at something plantlike and yell out 'daisy, pansy, tree!'. I'm a disappointment.
stoney321
Apr. 23rd, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
I will meet him! I have a Kangaroo Paw plant in a pot. I used to have an Australian Tree Fern, so it's practically like I'm living in your hemisphere and down the road.

And no, you aren't a disappointment. More of a "shame," really.

:D Hey there! how are you?
zyrya
Apr. 23rd, 2006 05:37 am (UTC)
Yeah, yeah, whatever.

::hoses the paths and driveway and footpaths and street and other street and freeway::
stoney321
Apr. 23rd, 2006 07:02 am (UTC)
*hoses YOU down*

FREEWAY. *cackles*
(Deleted comment)
stoney321
Apr. 23rd, 2006 10:59 am (UTC)
Hahahaha!! Plus, it helps that you have monster shade.

Cactus ROCK. What up, B? You gonna be aroud later? I'm all listless and avoidy today for some reason....
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wildrosesings
Apr. 23rd, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
Great post! And very useful--I had no idea that it was possible to have an environmentally friendly, well cared for lawn. (I'm deeply ignorant of gardening, despite my appreciation for plants)

stoney321
Apr. 23rd, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
Hello! And yes: you can actually do a lot of good with your landscape: provide a safe haven for the little critters, a constant supply of food with berry-producing shrubs, on and on.

I don't need to buy birdseed as I have enough plants that have seed heads/berries to keep them fed in winter. And in the summer, well... I want them eating bad bugs. :D

It's amusing to me how much time people spend on their lawns where I am (Texas.) It's a natural grassland - leave it alone and it thrives. Why spend all that energy on something that doesn't need it? Whooops... got back on my soapbox, didn't I?
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stoney321
Apr. 24th, 2006 09:07 am (UTC)
you probably don't need to water your lawn up there. You have lots of shade and rain, in comparison to what we have down south.

And... I thought azaleas went dormant in winter up north? I could be wrong. (THey're deciduous, right? They lose their leaves and bud up again in the spring? I'll check.) You could go out there to one of your azaleas, scratch at the bark about halfway down the plant with your nail, and see if there's green pulp. If so, it's fine. If it snaps like a dry twig, well...

:) *pets and soothes*
crayonbreakygal
Apr. 24th, 2006 03:43 pm (UTC)
Catching up on the old flist and saw this. Yes, yes, Stoney. Yes, I say. I'm gonna eliminate most of my lawn once the construction is finished! Whee. I can't wait. I'm going to put in drip systems on each of my zones (some of it is already done). I can't wait to do that. I'll have one little patch of grass in the back for the kiddies (in addition to a big slab o' concrete for the basketball goal). I loved you explainage. Thanks for that.
( 50 comments — Leave a comment )

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Reading this? I'm just curious. Because that's really detail-oriented of you. Feel free to stop reading. But you can see that there's more here, so are you going to keep reading? Really? That's pretty dedicated. I'm impressed. No, really. I'm not being sarcastic, why do you get like that? See, this is the problem I have with your mother - yes. YES. I'm going there. It's time we put all of our cards on the table.

I love you, why are you doing this? After all we've been through? You don't have to be like this. You know, still reading. You could be baking a pie. And then sharing it with me.

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