In this continuation of April’s article I am emphasizing “survival tactics” for stage 3 water restrictions; stage 3 being defined as the restriction of watering landscapes to two days a week. Currently, at the time I am writing in mid-April, I believe only the City of Folsom has imposed these limitations. The other municipalities are on voluntary water conservation, setting a goal of 20% to 25% less water usage per end user. So what happens if a mandatory water restriction occurs, is your landscape prepared for it?
The best way to explain this is to separate the lawn from the plants. Let’s start with lawns, as a landscaper I have been removing lawns and re-landscaping with plants which by nature use less water than lawns. The basic difference between lawns and plants are their roots. The deeper the root system the better drought tolerance the plant will have. Hence, lawns by nature are more shallowly rooted, and thus require more water, more frequently. So what would happen if you could store water for the lawn to draw from within the root zone of the plants, like many “mini-cisterns” of water, enabling the soil to hold more water? This would greatly enable the lawn to survive between periods of irrigation.
Oftentimes the product or products are out there being used in other applications with great success, but not making it into residential use. One such product is called Turface®, a fired clay that is commonly used in sports fields to hold moisture. It is the “red dirt” that one sees on the pitcher’s mound in baseball, but it has other applications. The Eureka School District used it ten years ago to treat its sports fields and realized a 50% savings in water use, while maintaining a green lawn. The procedure is to mow the lawn as low as is prudent (depending upon the season) and then “double” aerate the lawn. Afterwards, broadcast Turface over the surface of the lawn, much like one applies fertilizer, then backfill via “dragging” or raking the product into the holes. I would recommend prior to applying Turface, to rake up the plugs to maximize the use of the product. Professionally, a ‘drag screen’ is used to force the product into the holes. Since the product has not made its way into standard residential use, it is not available at local hardware stores or nurseries, and must be purchased through professional stores that market to sports fields and school districts.
The second procedure for lawn survival is using organics and the beneficial fungus, mycorrhizae, introduced in my April article. It attaches itself to the roots of plants (including lawn) and develops additional roots far beyond the plants own means. Earlier, I pointed out a fundamental difference between lawns and plants, being the depth of the root. The deeper rooting of plants allows them to endure water stress better. My background as a “Grower” (a term used within the Wholesale Nursery field, a similar title would be Department Manager) taught me to focus on growing the roots, not the plant. If a healthy root was grown, a healthy plant would follow. Organics does exactly that, it enables the plant to become strong by extending its roots via the beneficial aid of mycorrhizae.
Now I have a question, personally I hate doing just one thing at a time, I am always trying to (pardon the pun) “kill two birds with one stone.” So why not apply Turface and mycorrizhae, (which is also broadcasted) one after the other, and rake both products simultaneously into the aerated holes? Now you are receiving the benefits of both products. This is my own “take” on preparing existing lawns for less water. I have taken classes in drought management and spoken at length with reps in the fields of sports turf and organics searching for products that can be applied to residential landscapes. The main motivation for me has been, wanting to know as much as possible so that I could adapt our landscape procedures to incorporate less water use, and still deliver outstanding sustainable landscapes.
So far I have only discussed Fescue lawns, next month we will go into drought tolerant lawns (hybridized Buffalo grasses, for example), mp rotors, as well as “survival tactics” for plants if space allows. Now a garden tip; since many of you are starting gardens and planting flowers right now, remember in planting tomatoes and marigolds to plant them “two fingers” deep. In other words, lay your index finger and your middle finger over the top of the root ball, and where they touch on the highest point on the stem, plant up to that point burying the stem. As a general rule plants with “hairy” stems develop roots from them, so in planting them deeper you are adding to the root capacity of the plant, which by now you know is a good thing to do. Good Gardening!
If you are a do-it-yourselfer please use this article as a guide, and if you need help please do not hesitate to call Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. at (916) 765-9040 or visit our website www.executivecareinc.com. Executive Care Landscape Management, Inc. is a local full service landscape design/install and maintenance company. To receive the greatest benefit from this article please refer back to my April article “Keeping a Landscape Beautiful” or if you have landscaping needs, please read the February and March’s editorials for concepts and ideas on design www.HomeImprovement-Magazine.com.