Published on 03/04/08

UGA, green industry help Georgians conserve water

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Drought is predicted for Georgia this summer. To help home gardeners,University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and green industry experts put their heads together and developed tips Georgians can use to keep gardens green while saving water.

Landscape plants ultimately do more good than harm for the environment. They add oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They help keep homes cooler in the summer, reduce erosion and storm water runoff and provide wildlife habitats, said Matthew Chappell, a UGA Extension nursery specialist.

A good garden provides a sustainable environment, he said, one with less disease, less insect problems and less maintenance. “If you plan and design your garden before you plant it, the maintenance end should be less intensive,” he said.

This includes installing plants that do well in all Georgia conditions, whether it’s extreme heat, cold, drought or above normal rainfall.

“Many cacti would have done brilliantly this past summer, but in a normal year, cacti would not perform well in a Georgia landscape,” Chappell said. “In other words, they would likely die.”

Chappell and other UGA and green industry experts with the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council developed a list of ways gardeners can conserve water in their landscapes. It’s based on work by UGA Extension specialists Gary Wade, Clint Waltz and Bob Westerfield, in addition to lessons learned through the experiences of urban agriculture industry businesses that have been committed to conserving water for decades, he said.

“The water problem is not just an Atlanta problem,” said Bobby Flowers, who designs and manages the grounds at Valdosta State University. “We need to be more conscious in what we do. The water problem is becoming less of a north Georgia problem and more of a statewide problem.”

Georgia gardeners can still dig in the ground, even when water is short, and maintain healthy gardens. But there is a stigma attached. This past summer, green lawns went from a status symbol to a sign of extreme wastefulness.

“Georgia gardeners want to be assured that they’re not sinning anymore,” said Wayne Juers, formerly with Pike Nurseries.

The 16 tips found in the handout should reassure Georgia residents it’s OK to garden if they do it wisely.

“There are hundreds of ways you could save water in the landscape, either culturally or with technology, but this short list will give you the biggest bang for your time and biggest bang for the buck,” Chappell said. “The vast majority of these tips are absolutely free. All they require is an investment of your time and energy.”

For the short list, go to the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council Web site at Look for the publication “Saving Water in Your Landscape: Best Management Practices for Landscape Water Conservation.”

For a much more detailed discussion of water conservation practices in the landscape, check out the UGA publication “Best Management Practices for Landscape Water Conservation” online at

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.