2013-05-15 / Columns

Conserve water when gardening & landscaping

GUEST COLUMN
PETER A. ESCHBACH

Spring is finally under way, and for many people in New Jersey this means the start of new gardening, lawn and landscaping plans. The spring planting season also coincides with the beginning of the area’s months of peak water demand.

In the height of summer, water usage in Monmouth County alone reaches 80 million gallons a day or more in the peak demand periods. Much of this increase comes from outdoor water usage in the summer months.

The demand for water in Monmouth County has been steadily increasing over the last 100 years, yet the current water supply in New Jersey has been essentially the same for decades.

Consumers can take steps early in the season to save water and money on their water bills before the peak months are in full swing. According to Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Research, by using smart irrigation and landscaping practices, home and property owners can decrease their outdoor water usage and help conserve the water supply.

Keep in mind that it is not necessary to water the lawn every day. Watering just two or three times per week for about 45 minutes per area allows the soil to absorb the water and encourages deep root growth, which makes lawns more drought-tolerant.

An easy way to check if the lawn needs water? Just step on the lawn. If the grass springs back, it doesn’t need water. Make sure to water lawns and gardens early in the morning before the heat of the day starts.

Homeowners and other property owners with sprinkler or irrigation systems can adopt a number of practices to not only conserve water, but use it more efficiently.

At the beginning of spring, have your irrigation system inspected and tested. Check piping for leaks, breaks or collapsed lines. Sprinkler heads should be operating correctly and adjusted properly so that the correct areas are watered. Make sure sprinklers are not aimed at driveways, streets or other paved areas. Another good idea is to adopt an odd/even watering schedule that corresponds to your street address. To conserve even more water, skip watering on the 31st of the month and on July 4, which is considered the peak water demand period of the year.

Consider upgrading your system controller to a system that uses the latest technology that irrigates when soils are dry or that uses weather-based controllers.

Keep water conservation in mind even before you plant. There are a number of ways to incorporate water-saving practices into the design and plant selection process.

Some recommendations include:

 Select native and drought-resistant plants and grasses for landscape and garden.

 Native species tend to be more hearty and may require less maintenance than other, non-native varieties.  Group plantings together by the amount of water they require.

 Minimize the amount of turf areas on your property.

 Mulching landscaping and garden beds helps to cool the soil and preserves moisture. Don’t over-mulch; 2-3 inches of organic mulch material is optimum.

Proper lawn maintenance is another way to conserve water. According to Rutgers Cooperative Extension, most lawn species in New Jersey have a mowing height of 2.5 to 3 inches. Mowing grass lower than 2 inches can make lawns less drought resistant and more susceptible to disease and insect damage.

For more detailed resources about smart irrigation practices, water usage and other water conservation tips, visit the website www.newjerseyamwater.com or Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Research at www.njaes.rutgers.edu.

Peter A. Eschbach is the director of communications and external affairs for New Jersey American Water. He may be emailed at peter.eschbach@amwater.com.

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