know maintaining a healthy landscape often takes a lot of work, from
proper design and planting to maintenance. Those lush gardens and
velvet lawns require a lot of sweat equity.
But if designed properly, one thing
they donít need is a lot of water.
The growing green movement has made
homeowners more conscious about the use of our natural resources, and
the good news is a well-designed Midwestern landscape can naturally
lend itself to the conservation of water.
"One of the first things you can
do is purposely select plantings that do not have excessive water
needs," says Bret Achtenhagen of Seasonal Services in Mukwonago.
"Plants native to the Midwest typically have deeper root systems,
which can help with your water needs."
Geography makes those choices easy for
Wisconsin homeowners. Weíre fortunate in that we donít have the
arid, desert climates of the West nor do we normally suffer through
drought-like conditions on a long-term basis.
"It is a little bit different here
in Wisconsin in that water is not typically a big problem for
us," says Patrick Devereux, an owner of StoneOak Landscapes in
Cudahy. "Most of the normal plantings people use are quite
acclimated to our climates and therefore are fairly drought tolerant
Devereux notes, as with anything else,
there are always exceptions to this rule. "There are certain
perennials that will droop right away," he admits.
Jim Kemp, sales manager for LaRosa
Landscaping in Cedarburg, says that gardens and planting beds can be
designed to meet an ownerís needs while specifically reducing the
amount of attention that might typically be required with a
less-than-thoughtful plant selection.
"Using drought-tolerant plants
such as juniper, rudbeckia and leucanthemum will greatly reduce the
amount of water needed once they are established," he suggests.
"Work with a qualified and experienced landscape architect or
designer to create gardens that will perform well in this
Experienced professionals will also
take into account certain elements in your existing landscape, such as
the soil composition.
"The clay soil found in parts of
our area actually retains too much water and sometimes will not give
it up to the plants," says Devereux. "Likewise, it can also
have the opposite effect: If you dig a hole for a tree in heavy, clay
soil, the hole can almost act like a bathtub and drown the tree."
One of the easiest ways to reduce your
water needs ó as well as cutting down on weeds and enhancing the
aesthetic quality of your landscaping in general ó is to use
Achtenhagen mulches his home beds every
other year, using a five-tine hoe to loosen up the mulch on the off
years for a fresh look.
"You donít want your mulch to
compress and become hard," he says. "When that happens, it
makes it very difficult for the water to get through to the soil
Holding off on mulching every year also
gives the natural enzymes in the soil time to aerobically break down
the mulch, which helps enhance the bed. It also stops the mulch from
building up to unnaturally high levels, resulting in a "berm"
or "beaver hut" look to the beds. However, Kemp suggests
refreshing a bedís mulch to a certain degree each year.
"You want to maintain a desirable
depth of about 1 inch of mulch in perennial gardens and about 3 inches
for trees and shrubs," he recommends.
Many homeowners place an emphasis on
keeping a lush lawn during the summer months, and there are a number
of ways that this still can be done.
"During the warmest months, mow
your lawn at 3 inches to 3.25 inches in order to reduce root exposure
to the sun," advises Kemp.
Instead of relying on a regular
watering schedule regardless of the weather, Devereux suggests taking
the cues directly from your lawn.
"If your lawn doesnít spring
back when you walk on it or it starts to take on a gray cast, those
are both signs that itís getting dry," he says.
When watering your lawn, the experts
agree itís better to water heavily and less frequently than to
provide a light shower on a regular basis.
"If you water 15 minutes every
day, where do your roots end up?" asks Achtenhagen. "They
end up growing up to the top 2 inches where the soil is damp."
Watering less frequently but more
deeply keeps the lower layers of soil moist, which is where the roots
naturally occur. LaRosa Landscaping suggests homeowners try to provide
an inch of water a week, preferably all at the same time, to keep a
"This process will promote deep
root growth by giving your lawn a healthier and stronger root
system," says Kemp, noting homeowners can measure how much water
theyíre dispensing at one time by using a rain gauge or a marked
Irrigation systems, when installed
properly, can save on water usage as well.
"Itís better to time a system
rather than just simply turning it on and forgetting about it,"
says Devereux. "Even better is to set up separate zones within
Another important tip, agree local
experts, is to water your lawn and/or garden early in the morning.
This minimizes any evaporation that may occur and it will give the
soil the opportunity to absorb as much water as possible before both
the sun and the warmer temperatures rise later in the day.
Finally, a great tip for conserving
water is to take advantage of the natural canopy provided by trees.
"The preservation and new
installation of shade trees can greatly reduce the effect of the hot
summer sun on turf and plantings," says Kemp. "When properly
installed and placed, shade trees will also help reduce home-cooling
expenses, which also makes your home more efficient and betters the
Shade trees also make an outdoor living
space more comfortable, meaning you can enjoy the fruits of your labor
and be kind to the earth and its resources at the same time.