Published on 03/04/08

UGA, green industry tips for water conservation

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Georgia urban agriculture industry urge citizens to go green. Following are tips they developed to help Georgians do this.

Before planting a landscape, take the time to construct a plan.

Test the soil. A soil test will tell you how to improve the soil to enhance nutrient uptake by plants. Soil testing is available through your local county UGA Cooperative Extension office and some retail garden centers.

Identify primary source of water. Explore alternative ways of obtaining water for irrigating plants, such as harvesting and storing rainwater and air conditioner condensate and installing rain gardens.

Put the right plant in the right place. When selecting plants, make a list of the plants based on their water needs and sunlight requirements. Group plants with similar water and light needs together in the landscape.

Use land wisely. When planning your landscape, place plants with lower water needs at higher elevations and plants with higher water needs in flat areas or at lower elevations.

After planning, plant properly.

Add soil amendments. Soil amendments are yard waste, weeds, composted twigs or composted livestock manure. Composted material is sold in bags at garden centers.

Mulch, mulch, mulch. For trees and ornamentals, apply 3 to 5 inches of fine-textured mulch on the soil surface after planting. Mulch conserves moisture, maintains a uniform soil temperature and reduces weeds.

Water in threes. When planting, first water the plants in their containers (be sure to do this over turfgrass or a planting bed to share any water). As you fill the planting hole with soil, add water to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Water again after planting.

Be extremely careful when planting around established plants. Avoid digging under established trees or shrubs and injuring their roots.

Prune roots. If you remove a plant from its pot and see a mass of tangled roots, use a knife to make four to six vertical cuts around the root ball, then use your hands to pull apart the roots. This encourages new roots to form, allows water to move into the root ball and results in more rapid plant establishment.

After plants are in the ground, manage them wisely.

Use your eyes. Water plants only when they require it.

Timing is everything. The best time to irrigate is between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. This conserves moisture and reduces evaporation. Call your local water provider for authorized watering times.

Test the soil again. A soil test provides the best gauge for fertilization requirements in the landscape.

Know your fertilizer. A slow-release fertilizer or compost results in more uniform plant growth rates.

Keep mulching. Maintain an average mulch depth of 3 to 5 inches. This may require you to add 1 to 3 inches of additional mulch each year.

Keep grass tough. Regardless of drought conditions, allow the grass to dry and become stressed before applying irrigation. This causes the grass to explore deeper soil depths for moisture and nutrients. Periodically aerate and raise the mowing height to the upper recommended limits.

To avoid wasting water, use a hand-held hose, soaker hose or drip irrigation to water trees, shrubs and flowers. Water at a rate the soil can absorb rather than a high rate that runs off the intended area.

To learn more, visit the Web site

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