Late last year, roadside signs began appearing near my home in Lee County stating “Drought Alert: Conserve Water.” Those signs were in response to a statewide drought declaration that put all 67 Alabama counties under an official drought “emergency” or “warning” status.
As 2017 arrived, and despite intermittent rains in December and several days of steady rain in early January, the signs stayed up — a reminder that even heavy winter rains may not be enough to fully replenish our water supplies for the coming year. The signs were also a reminder that we gardeners can do our part in conserving this most valuable of natural resources in our own yards.
In light of last year’s drought, the possibility of future droughts and the fact that saving water usually translates into saving money, I propose making water our official Valentine of 2017 and showing it a little love!
Lots of information on making our yards and gardens more drought tolerant can be found through local and state water and conservation agencies and through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Many of these resources tout the idea of a water-friendly landscape management approach called xeriscaping.
Xeriscaping (also known as xero-scaping and smart-scaping) helps us rethink our yards and gardens with water conservation in mind. Applying its principles to our landscapes can help reduce water use by one-third and make our yards and gardens easier to maintain. It’s a relatively easy approach to adopt that starts with an evaluation of the existing landscape, a process that can begin this month while most of us are in a gardening lull.
On those wet, cold February days when you’re stuck indoors, take some time to list which parts of the yard and which plants needed the most irrigation in the past. This can help target areas that need the most immediate attention.
During those pretty February days, walk around the yard and garden and make notes about which areas are typically dry or wet, sunny or shady and hilly, flat or low-lying. These areas represent microclimates that may have different water needs as you plan for the future. Also, identify areas where the soil is poor and take soil test samples, the results of which can help you decide what nutrients and amendments to add that will improve soil fertility and moisture-holding capacity.
While you’re at it, assess the way you’ve been irrigating in the past. Does your irrigation system need updating or adjusting so it irrigates plants, not the sidewalk or the street? Are you using hoses and sprinklers that need to be replaced with more water-efficient equipment? Make a shopping list and use it to stock up on new equipment before prices start to rise in the spring.
Also, think about what plants you hope to add to your yard and garden in the coming year and pick ones that require less water, such as native plants and drought-tolerant varieties. If you’re not sure which plants are best, consult plant lists for the South. If you’re ordering vegetable seeds and transplants, pick ones that are more drought-tolerant or better adapted to Alabama’s climate. Now is also a good time to think about reducing the size of your lawn, the thirstiest part of almost any yard.
And on those February nights, curl up with reading material on drought-tolerant gardening strategies. Visit your local library and browse through magazines and books or get your hands on some step-by-step publications. Two great ones are available through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Xeriscaping: Landscape Design for Water Conservation and Drought Tolerant Landscapes for Alabama, which contains an extensive list of water-thrifty trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and herbs. Both publications are available on www.aces.edu.
By matching a landscape’s water needs with your gardening dreams, you can rethink your yard and garden for this year and for years to come. And take heart: You don’t have to completely re-do the landscape all at once. Just concentrate on the thirstiest parts of the yard first and make small changes where you can. Your yard and your water supplies will feel the love.
- Give plants, seeds and gardening supplies to your Valentine.
- Plant roses, trees, shrubs and hardy perennials.
- Order seeds for the spring and summer garden.
- Start seeds for spring vegetables and bedding plants.
- Get gardening tools ready for the coming season.
- Begin planting summer-blooming bulbs.
- Prune summer-flowering shrubs now, but delay pruning spring-flowering shrubs until after they bloom.
- Clean out moldy or sprouting seeds before refilling bird feeders.
- Attend gardening workshops and classes or get involved with local gardening clubs and organizations.
Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at email@example.com.