by Peggy Burch
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener
“It was a wonderful dream, full of flowers and green grass. But it soon became a nightmare - everything was turning brown. The dreamer rushed around wildly. “What should I water? I can’t water everything as I have been. But what should I let go? What’s going to happen to the Fernleaf Peony that came from Mom’s yard and the“Hyperion” Daylily that was Granddad’s or the 20-year collection of miniature roses? The bluegrass lawn is important to the children. Will the perennial border die?”
This is not a dream; this is reality. As the summer progresses, the situation could get worse. We must conserve water. Expectations for the appearance of our landscapes must be lowered. What do we water and what do we choose to ignore? We all have difficult decisions ahead of us. While we cannot change the course of the drought, we can decide where to direct our efforts.
Not everyone will make the same choices. The sentimental value or cost of plant materials may be the deciding factor. A lifetime collection of plants demands consideration. Some bluegrass lawns will be left to go dormant. Households may decide to let areas of grass or flowers die out and replant at a better time.
How do we make these kinds of decisions? Know your plants and understand what is important to you and your family.
* Water as infrequently as possible, without causing undue stress to the lawn. A healthy, established lawn should be able to remain green when watering every 3-5 days.
* Set your mowing height at 2 1/2 to 3 inches and mow frequently enough to produce only small amounts of grass clippings.
* Restrict or eliminate nitrogen fertilization.
* Do not de-thatch or power- rake the lawn.
* If possible, reduce traffic on the turf.
* Make sure the irrigation system is operating properly.
* Healthy Kentucky bluegrass, buffalograss, wheatgrass, zoysiagrass and bermudagrass lawns can become completely dormant (brown) for many months (even an entire summer) and survive without any irrigation or precipitation. Fine fescue lawns can become completely dormant and survive extended drought for many months; their recovery will range from spotty to complete when irrigation is resumed.
Trees, Shrubs and Perennials
* Evaluate each plant on appearance, desirability and health.
* Identify those plants that you must keep; identify those with little meaning or those in poor health. The time spent watering and taking care of unwanted or unhealthy plants can be time consuming.
* Plants in poor health are more susceptible to disease and insects.
* Know the water needs of your plants and don’t give all of them the same amount. Plants grouped according to similar water requirements make it easier to judge when watering is required.
* Plantings can be monitored and a watering schedule established. Hand-water important plants if necessary.
* Evaluate expensive trees and shrubs. What is the cost to replace or cut down a good-sized tree?
* Soak the root system of established trees once every 4-6 weeks. Don’t water every week just because it is allowed.
* Watering established trees next to the trunk is not sufficient as the roots extend 3 to 5 times the height of the tree.
* Remove undesired plants or water infrequently.
* Weed frequently. Weeds use large amounts of water.
* Be sure your organic mulch layer is in place. Place 3-4 inches deep and avoid mulch right against the trunk as this can harbor insect pests and diseases that may harm the trees.
* Kill turf near trunks of trees and shrubs. After the grass has dried, apply a layer of mulch over as much of the root zone as possible. Place fabric material (not plastic) under the mulch first if desired.
Flowers and Vegetable Gardens
* Consider eliminating temporary plantings that use great amounts of water.
* Maintain vegetable gardens within watering restrictions but know the critical watering periods for each vegetable and target the timing and amount of water. Eliminate those diseased or no longer producing.
* Mulch, mulch, mulch.
* Grow only what you need. Remember that one tomato plant can yield over 20 lbs. of fruit.
* Annuals that are still attractive can be maintained, if easily watered. Annuals can be watered 2-3 times per week if approximately 1 inch of water is applied during each irrigation cycle.
* Water perennials deeply (1 inch of water or more) 2 times per week during hot, dry periods.
* Remove plants that are no longer attractive.
Let’s do what we can to conserve water now and in the future. Learn and practice the rules of water-wise gardening. We are part of the problem; let’s be a part of saving our most valuable resource - water.
For more information see our water-wise gardening fact sheets.
Question: With the current watering restrictions in place, my husband and I want to use our bath water and the water from the washing machine on our lawn and on some of our plants. We would not use it on edible plants, of course. Is it safe?
Answer: It sounds like you are questioning if this water is safe for your plants. It would be impossible to give you an answer. There are so many products used in washing machines such as detergents, fabric softeners, bleaches, and brighteners that could affect plant materials. Bath water could have soap, shampoo, bath oil and the like.
However, the overriding problem with your question is that the use of this water to help irrigate your yard is actually illegal at this time. The water from uses within the house such as bath water and the water from the washing machine and from the bathroom sink is known as “gray water”. Water from the dishwasher and washing dishes and from the toilet is known as “black water”. According to the Board of Health, the use of either is prohibited for use on the surface of your yard. All could have come in contact with bodily fluids and could contain pathogens.
Question: I was driving east on Horsetooth Road, between Taft Hill and Shields Streets, and I noticed some pinyon pines with new growth that was drooping and looked dead. What is wrong with these pines?
Answer: It sounds like it might be pinyon tip moths. The larvae of this moth feed on the new growth and destroy it. Although the damage often makes the trees unattractive, there is little damage to the health of the tree. The tree growth can be delayed and the tree might appear bushier. Many natural enemies of tip moths can often reduce infestations. If necessary, tip moths can be controlled with insecticides. The timing of application is important.
There is another moth whose larvae are also damaging pinyon pines.
This is the pinyon pitch mass borer. The pinyon pitch mass borer
is a serious pest of pinyon in landscapes. These larvae tunnel into the
cambium of branches and trunks and cause large gouges that ooze a pinkish
pitch. If heavily infested, branches may break. These borers
tend to be the biggest problem where the pinyon trees receive too much
water (established pinyon pines require no supplemental irrigation) and
are more closely planted than would occur in their natural setting. The
larvae can be destroyed manually. Trunk sprays can help to reduce
Late July is the time to start seeding pansies for bloom this fall.
If young trees are producing too much fruit, thin them to produce larger fruit and to lessen the weight of the branches.
Trim grass around fruit trees as the grass can deprive trees of needed nutrients. This will also help prevent injury to the trunk from lawn mowers and weed whackers.
Save lawn clippings and spread a 2-3inch layer of them under taller established plants. This helps prevent weeds, conserves moisture, and adds organic matter to the soil. Be sure and dry the grass before using it as mulch as the wet grass will mat.
In late July, slow down watering cabbage to prevent heads from splitting.
The authors have received training through Colorado State University Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.
Gardening and Insect Fact Sheets are available on-line by clicking HERE.
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