This is the second in a series of guest blog articles from the Mecklenburg County Master Gardeners.
- Design your landscape creating irrigation zones. By grouping plants together that need very low, low, or moderate amounts of water separately, you will irrigate more efficiently.
- Place the plants that need the least water furthest away from your water source and those that need the most water closest. This can take a bit of gardening savvy because the plants also need the correct amount of light (don’t plant sun-loving petunias close to the water source if it is in deep shade – plant impatiens instead).
- Mulch decreases moisture loss from the soil due to evaporation. Your planting areas look tidier and mulch keeps your soil temperature stable and adds nutrients to the soil if it is made of compost, wood chips, pine straw, leaves, shredded bark, etc. Usually, 2-3 inches of mulch is better for trees and shrubs while 1-2 inches is best for annuals, perennials, and vegetables.
- Reduce turf grass areas and introduce new hardscape – decks, patios, ground covers, and natural areas add beauty and reduce the size of lawn. Minimize drought stress on turf by raising the mower blade to 3+ inches. Mowing high encourages deep root systems, the key to drought tolerance and weed resistance.
- Use soaker hoses and drip irrigation rather than sprinklers which waste water through evaporation. For turf areas, the sprinkler is your only choice since uniform coverage is important. Most of us overdo watering, resulting in shallow-rooted shrubs, trees, flowers, and grass. Plants need about 1” of water weekly (spread some containers around when you are watering and time how long it takes to fill the container with 1” of water).
- Prioritize! Make large, valuable and historic trees your top watering priority. Do not water around the trunk – instead, water at the drip line (the farthest extent of the branches). Newly planted trees, shrubs, and plants should be watered before well-established plants. Perennial flowers are shallow-rooted and should be watered if keeping them is important. Lawns and annuals should be last on your watering list – grass seed is inexpensive and annuals can be enjoyed in containers.
- Avoid fertilizing or pruning plants during extended dry periods when plants are under stress. Fertilizers can dehydrate plant roots when water is scarce. Pruning encourages new growth, which needs more water. Also, do not apply pesticides to wilted plants.
- Improve your soil. Get a soil test kit from the Extension Master Gardener office or one of the larger local nurseries. NC State University will analyze your samples for free and provide a soil test report that will give you information on pH, nutrients, etc. Incorporate the needed nutrients, organic material, and break up compaction by tilling so air and water can penetrate. The key to drought tolerance is a deep, healthy root system.
- When establishing a new lawn, select a water-conserving, warm-season turf grass rather than our common fescue. Bermuda grass is the most drought tolerant grass we can grow. Zoysia and Centipede grasses also have surprisingly good drought tolerance. All will initially have to be watered until their root systems are strong, but maintenance will be reduced significantly as these grasses have lower fertilizer needs and do not require mowing as often.
- Select healthy plants adapted to our hot, humid weather in Zone 7b/8a and plant them in the right place (sun/shade, more/less water) for best results. A grouping of drought-tolerant plants may not need irrigation at all through a normal summer. Mediterranean plants, herbs, succulents, cacti, and plants with silver/gray or fuzzy leaves are usually very drought tolerant.
Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteers
Horticulture Help Desk: 704-336-4011
Facebook: Mecklenburg Extension Master Gardener Volunteers