Moultrie Observer

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February 23, 2013

Xeriscaping supports conservation and sustainability

TIFTON — Water! Water! Water! This resource is priceless and the supply dwindles day by day. In order to preserve water for our future generations, we must sustain and conserve. The earth’s supply of water is finite! What we have now is the most that there will ever be, but our global population and developments continue to grow placing much concern on available water resources.

For many generations, the distribution of our water resources dictated where people would live, manufacturing would happen, and pleasurable recreation would occur. Because of our reckless use of this precious resource, we are now faced with issues on conservation, sustainability and restrictions like no other generation before     us.

We are going to have homes, parks and facilities, and we are going to landscape and grass them. Let us plan ahead and proceed in a manner conducive to more effective conservation and sustainability efforts. Any effort to reduce the demand for this precious resource must be labeled as beneficial and realistic. One such strategy is called xeriscaping or water-wise landscaping which can be very effective and help to conserve our water situations.

For many years we have applied more and more horticultural concepts to our landscapes and allowed the ecological aspects to take a back seat.  This resulted in the use of many exotic plants that required high maintenance and much water. Now, it is certainly of the essence that we pay more attention to native plants and sustainability practices.

Xeriscaping, with emphasis on the use of native and sustainable plants, offers our country the opportunity to restore the regional distinctiveness throughout that has been de-emphasized in modern society. By combining plants with similar watering needs, matching them with local climates, and integrating them with construction materials and native design themes, landscape designers will have the opportunity to begin a new era in restoration of our diverse national and local landscapes.

The National Xeriscape Council developed a list of principles that have come to serve as a guide in the development and maintenance of landscapes which will assist everyone in using water wisely (conserving) and not wastefully (reckless abandonment).

The first principle involves proper planning and design including the site analysis, the measurement of the client’s needs, and the development of the outdoor room concept.  Furthermore, plants should be hydrozoned (grouped according to their watering needs) from low water usage to moderate water usage to high water usage.

The zone labeled low water usage requires little or no supplemental water after plantings become established. The zone of moderate water usage requires some supplemental watering during hot, dry weather in life-threatening situations. And, the high water use zone has limited areas where plants are given as much water as needed during all seasons. These zones receive the most curb appeal and are highly visible to the general public.

The second principle involves proper soil analysis to define soil structure, nutrient content, infiltration, percolation, water retention capacity, and drainage (surface and subsurface) characteristics. This information will help in soil management and plant selection as the site is prepared for development. Soil additives also will assist in improving water infiltration, retention, and soil drainage thus providing a soil media which promotes deep rooting and plant health.

The third principle addresses appropriate plant selection through suitability and adaptability to the site. The focus should be to emphasize the water use zones and plant choices. Smaller plants require less water to become established. The design should dictate more low water use areas and fewer high water zones to properly conserve water and encourage sustainability.

The fourth principle focuses on the practical turf areas. In the past, turfgrasses have been established in massive areas and often used as filler plants in design voids which meant large areas to irrigate and large areas to mow (an affordable luxury). With xeriscaping, turfgrasses become more functional in smaller areas (less is better) and help in directing traffic flow throughout an area. Also, turf should be used where it is the functional plant of choice and where an alternative, non-living surface does not complement the landscape.

The fifth principle concentrates on efficient irrigation that matches the site and plant requirements. Select those irrigation systems that offer little to no waste and deliver the designated amount to the soil for effective plant uptake. Irrigation uniformity addresses coverage and irrigation efficiency focuses on that amount of water available for plant uptake from the root zone.  Minimize runoff and excessive internal drainage while watering deeply and infrequently to encourage a more healthy plant with a deeper root system, thus exhibiting more drought tolerance.

The sixth principle addresses mulches that complement the curb appeal of the site and the health of the plants. An appropriate mulch may be organic (pine bark or straw) or inorganic (pea gravel or rock) but must contribute to the natural appearance of the xeriscape. The mulching depth should be about 4 inches and maintained properly. If an organic mulch is used, always remove the old mulch before adding any new mulch. If an inorganic mulch is used, replenish as necessary and always use an appropriate barrier or liner between the mulch and soil surface to prevent the mulch from mixing with the soil profile.

And, the seventh principle focuses on the identification and inclusion of appropriate maintenance practices that support water conservation. Blowing or sweeping walks rather than hosing them will save water. Using anti-transpirants on plants help conserve moisture. Regular mowing will limit the height of the turf and increase density which will conserve moisture. Always keep your plants pest-free and healthy which will conserve moisture. Also, always select pest-tolerant plants (insect and disease tolerance) which will support healthier plants.

Landscape architects and designers should recognize and apply xeriscaping principles in the planning process. Also, environmental ethics becomes a part of the planning process which benefits everyone involved, present and future. Designers should be familiar with the plants in the different geographical areas of the state and select those plants native and adaptable to the specific sites. For example, if a designer is unfamiliar with south Georgia sites and plants, then make a decision to choose a different specialist as a resource. Familiarity is critical and a priceless characteristic in the human resources you elect to use.

As you plan your landscapes this season, always keep xeriscaping principles, water use, conservation and sustainability in mind. Continue to play in the dirt and enjoy each moment as you prepare your domestic environment in a manner which is most beneficial to the plants and the environment!


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