Watering Landscapes Wisely and Efficiently Helps Conserve Water

With dry conditions continuing throughout Colorado and much of the West, responsible use of water on landscapes is a must. Landscape experts with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension and the Green Industries of Colorado suggest following basic conservation principles that will maximize Colorado’s limited water supply and encourage healthy, hardy and drought-resistant landscapes.

General watering hints:

  • Lawns and planting beds should be watered according to their needs based on soil moisture levels. To check soil moisture, insert a 6-inch screwdriver into the soil. If it can be easily inserted, the soil doesn’t need water.
  • Water at night. Water lawns and other landscapes at night, between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., but not during the heat of the day or when the wind is blowing. Set sprinklers to hit only landscapes, not sidewalks, driveways, windows, etc.
  • Look for footprints. Water landscapes when footprints or mower tracks become easily visible on grass or when large areas of the lawn take on a bluish-gray color.
  • Has it rained? Skip watering on days following one-half inch or more of rain. On cool, cloudy days, plants use less water and there is less evaporation, which increases the time between watering.
  • Check sprinkler systems. Check to see how long each zone is scheduled to run and adjust the timer accordingly. A shade zone will require less water than a hot, sunny area and the cooler seasons require less water than hot summer months. Check sprinkler heads frequently to make sure they are functioning properly. Older timers may not be adjustable to a three-day cycle. Learn how to operate those systems manually to meet watering needs.
  • Watering with a hose? Use household timers as a reminder to move or stop soaker hoses and sprinklers. Check the amount of water that sprinklers put out by placing a shallow container like a tuna fish can in the yard to measure water. This will help determine how long a landscape should be watered to apply an amount of water recommended by local utility services or homeowners associations.
  • Newly planted landscapes take more water. Establishing new plants will initially require more water, but watering cycles should be adjusted to maintenance levels after landscapes are established. Mulching conserves moisture and can make a difference in water conservation on new and established landscapes. In general, trees are established two to three years after they are planted. Most flowers are established within two to three weeks, but herbaceous perennials may take up to eight weeks. New sod is established in three weeks and newly seeded grass is established after five weeks.

Tips for watering grass

  • Aerate. Aeration is an important part of healthy lawn maintenance because it allows better water, air and fertilizer penetration by relieving soil compaction. This prevents water run-off and improves the health of plants. For best results, aerate in the spring and fall under moderate soil conditions when a 6-inch screwdriver can be easily inserted into the soil.
  • Mow efficiently. Set mowers at the highest level possible and make sure that mower blades are sharp so that grass is cut properly. Leave lawn clippings on the turf or use a mulching mower to recycle moisture and nutrients back into the yard.
  • Brown spots? Be willing to accept a less than perfect lawn because of dry conditions. Water brown spots by hand. To minimize brown spots, check sprinkler coverage and frequently look for broken lines or heads, clogged nozzles and nozzles with poor spray patterns, and head and nozzle adjustment.
  • Fertilize. Consider a moderate application of iron fertilizers and reduce the rate of nitrogen fertilizer used in a landscape. Lush, fast-growing grass uses more water. Fertilize lawns in the summer with a slow-release fertilizer and in the fall at the rate suggested on the product label.

Tips for watering flowers

  • Flower gardens may need less water than grass areas. Adjust watering schedules for flowerbeds to reduce water applications when appropriate.
  • Know plant tolerance. Select and plant flowers by their specific water and sunlight needs. Many flowers with low water needs are available.
  • Improve the soil. Prepare flowerbeds with soil amendments such as peat moss, compost or other organic material for maximum water efficiency and growth.
  • Newly planted flowers. Check and water flowers daily for a short time during the first two weeks after they are planted to help them become established, then gradually reduce the amount of water that is applied. In general, flowers are considered established about three weeks after they are planted. To determine if the flowers need water, insert a 6-inch screwdriver into the soil. If it can be easily inserted, you don’t need to water.
  • Mulch. Mulch flowerbeds to reduce evaporation, retain moisture in the soil and control weeds.

Tips for watering trees

  • Trees use water best when the water soaks deep into the soil near the tree’s feeder roots.
  • Established trees need less water than newly planted trees. Roots extend out from established trees three to five times the height of the tree. Soaking the soil next to the trunk of an established tree is not adequate; normal, general landscape irrigation provides water to established trees. In general, trees are considered established about two years after they are planted, depending on the size that is planted. Larger trees take longer to establish than smaller trees.
  • Mulch newly planted trees. Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch at least 2 feet wide around the trunk of a newly planted tree to help the soil around the tree maintain moisture. Leave a 2-inch wide ring around the trunk free of mulch. Check moisture levels in the root ball of the tree with a screwdriver and water new trees to maintain adequate moisture.

Tips for watering fruits and vegetables

  • Mulch grapes, raspberries, strawberries and vegetables. Mulch around these plants and consider using a drip irrigation sprinkler system, which is more efficient than overhead watering systems.
  • Water apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries and other fruit trees according to tree guidelines.