Learn how to not feel guilty about your water use in the Southwest.

Hot summer days can wreak havoc on our yards, many people start to freak out that their plants are going to die. Today I want to chat about some steps you can take to stress less about your yard in the summer.

Did you know that 40% of the drinking water in Albuquerque is used on residential yards? Crazy right. And that is after all the conservation we’ve already done. Household water use has dropped from 250 gallons per day in the mid-1990’s to 130 gpd today. There is still more work to do considering we still use so much water on our yards.

As you may well know, I am a landscape architect here in Albuquerque so I take responsibility to educate the public and every client I work with on the importance of water conservation. In fact, it’s why I moved here back in the late 90’s. Many of us here in the Duke City are transplants from other wetter areas of the country and this is one reason we tend to use more water on our yards. We resonate with the landscapes we grew up with and want to replicate that here in the southwest. Unfortunately, we only receive 8″ of rainfall a year here unlike most of the places we transplanted from. Since we are not likely to be able to replicate our childhood gardens, I’d like to teach you how to embrace the greatness of the landscapes we have here in the southwest.

Since we are not able to replicate our childhood gardens, I’d like to teach you how to embrace this place so you can feel empowered to create a beautiful yard that’s waterwise.

  1. HOW MUCH WATER DO I USE? First up is to gather the data and find out how much water you use on your landscape per month. The trick is to look at the yearly report of your water use. Take an average of the winter months (Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb) and that should represent the amount of water you use monthly indoors. Now get an average water use for the months of April, May, June, July and August. Take that number and subtract your indoor water use, the remaining number will tell you your average outdoor water use per month. By the way, this exercise is not for you to feel guilty about your water use, it’s more to open your eyes to your existing water use so you can figure out how you can better utilize every drop we get while having a beautiful yard.
  2. HOW MUCH WATER DO PLANTS NEED? Facts on typical native desert plants in NM and how much water they need. So how much water do we need to account for to water our plants. Every yard is different so this will vary by yard size, location, soils, slope, use and plants. This is not an easy question to answer, instead I’m going to teach you a few basics for planting in the Southwest. These methods should be followed in order to insure the efficiency of each drop of water.
    1. Use native or adaptive plants: Plant selection goes a long way in reducing your water use. The desert has large swings in temperature and moisture so the plants we choose need to accomodate this otherwise your plants will always look like they are struggling unless you dump loads of water on them. Choose plants from local nurseries. Basically, avoid buying any plants from the big box stores. WHY? Local nurseries will have plants that area adapted to our large temperature swings. Choose plants that are native or adaptive to the area you live in. Some nurseries call them xeriscape plants, other native, and perhaps even New Mexico plants.
    2. Install them in a basin: Getting the installation correct is key to plant survival. Be sure to always did a hole twice the size of the pot you are installing. Plant in the center of a basin (or bowl) so that water is directed to the plant and remains there. Which means you need to dig a hole deeper than you were anticipating to accommodate for the bowl.
    3. Add mulch: Adding a 2-3″ layer of mulch will help keep moisture at the roots and prevent evaporation. I recommend a shredded bark mulch.
  3. HOW LONG DO I WATER FOR? Have you heard of the term deep watering? When you think about our native plants, the ones you see in the foothills or near the Petroglyphs, do you notice how they green up after a rainstorm? Our plants are designed to make the most of each drop of water they get even if that rainwater comes randomly. When figuring out how long to water I try to mimic nature. Our plants are well suited to be deeply watered. This means watering them with a minimal amount of water but for a long time so the water travels deep below the plant (18″ is ideal). This encourages the plant to send down deep roots which allow the plant to be more efficient when watered. You can do this with a drip emitter or soaker hose. Try intervals of 10 or 30 minutes then measure, using a wooden ruler or paint stick, by sticking a wooden ruler or paint stirrer into the ground about 12″ deep. You’ll be able to see what works best after testing this out a few times.
  4. WHEN DO I WATER? The best thing you can do is to establish a water schedule. You can do this with a timer from an irrigation store on a hose bib, with an irrigation controller that comes with a system or if you had water just jot it down on your calendar.  Below are the basic rules listed by plant type.
    1. Trees: Deeply water trees to 30″ depth once a month. You can up it to twice a month when the temperature gets over 85 degrees.
    2. Shrubs: Deeply water shrubs to 18″ depth monthly in the winter (Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb), twice monthly in the spring and fall and once a week in the hot summer months.
    3. Perennials: Deeply water to 18″ depth in November and January. Water twice a month in October and April. Water once a week in May and September and twice a week in June, July, August.

Keeping a watering routine is not just important for conserving water but it’s critical in training your plants to thrive. I’d like for you to establish a watering schedule and stick to it.

So after reading the steps above, what do you think you can do this year to conserve? Take a look at this video that explains what the state, city and county are doing for us. It’s impressive. CLICK HERE  OR BELOW TO WATCH.

You can have a weed free, waterwise, low maintenance yard by taking some time to create a plan for your yard. I can teach you how to design a landscape plan, Sign in here

and I’ll send you resources and tips on how to design your own yard.





P.S. Data and resources from www.abcwua.org.


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