Help Your Plants Get The Most Out Of Water Conservation

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April showers have brought another inch or so of rain, calmed allergies and given rise to a thick, lush carpet of weeds and grass. Removing weeds as soon as they are large enough to pull and while the ground is soft will prevent them from setting seed, but be selective, for among the "weeds" may be precious, high country wildflowers.

Mowing grass now will not only prevent it from seeding, but also will lower fire danger when it dries out.

The town of Payson water department has set the conservation level at 3 for the year. While watering schedules are not changing for residents, the heightened level makes everyone mindful regarding the necessity of using water wisely.

Those on private wells and or who live outside the Payson town limits can use this conservation level as an indicator as to how well Mother Nature is recharging the ground water supply. When choosing plants at the nursery, or assessing the needs of established plants, the question frequently asked is "how much water does it need?"

Like most issues regarding nature, there is not a simple answer, but it is possible to reach a successful conclusion. As gardeners tend to be keen observers of nature, keeping a close eye on anything in the garden will supply information from which to make good choices regarding watering schedules. While the ground is still damp from recent rains, apply mulch to hold the moisture in. For established plants, layer mulch about two inches deep around perennials, and about four inches deep around trees and shrubs, from the trunk to a little beyond the drip line. Check the soil under the mulch, and do not water until the top two or three inches is dry.

When watering, set the drip system timer to thoroughly soak the soil, giving established trees and shrubs a long, deep drink once every two to three weeks, depending on climatic conditions. Well-mulched, established perennials will need a deep soaking once every week or 10 days, depending on soil type, temperature and wind.

Establishing new plants takes time and attention, and is less complicated in cooler weather than when summer temperatures soar. The natural water requirement of a plant also enters into the equation.

According to High Country Gardens (www.highcountrygardens.com), very low water-use, or very xeric, native shrubs and trees will establish on one gallon of water per week per gallon size of the root ball. In other words, a five-gallon potted shrub or tree will need about five-gallons of water once a week. Most other trees and shrubs and xeric perennials will establish on two days per week irrigation. Ten- gallon size trees need 10 gallons of water applied two times each week, and large balled-in burlap trees need about 20 gallons of water applied two times each week.

Soil conditions also affect the water needs; sandy soils require more water, and clay soils substantially less. When preparing the planting hole, add a little clay soil to sand, and add a little sand to clay. Organic material, such as well-rotted compost also will improve the moisture holding quality of the soil.

Making new plantings water efficient requires healthy soil and natural plant foods such as Liquid Seaweed and Super Thrive, which help the roots establish. Wells around new plantings will hold the water while it slowly penetrates the soil. Letting a plant take on its natural shape and growth also will require less water. Severe pruning and shaping causes stress to a plant, and stressed plants require more water. Pruning should be done while plants are dormant, in February or March.

The High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona meets at 6 p.m., the first Monday of each month in room 101 at Gila Community College. Anyone interested in helping to educate the community in the principles of water-wise gardening is invited to participate.

Call (928) 474-0373 for additional information

Barb Bourscheidt is a longtime resident of Payson, a member of the Rim Area Gardeners and a participant in the Gila County Master Gardener program. She serves on the board of directors of the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona, and she researches and writes articles on the subject of water conservation through creative landscaping and climate-appropriate gardening techniques.

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