Maybe it’s dry enough to rethink your landscape

Wow, it’s dry. The limited snowpack was a precursor of things to come, but I’m not sure that very many of us expected to have such a long period of drought.

We’re beyond weeks – now we are at months without measurable precipitation. The first week of July, anecdotally, marks the start of the monsoon season, but with all this dryness, my parched mouth can’t offer much of a prayer.

Many of you have probably noticed your landscape, either new or established, showing signs of drought stress. While a solution to the stress is to irrigate more frequently, in many instances increased irrigation equals higher water bills. For some, that water may not be available or watering restrictions may be in place.

For those of you who have a new landscape (installed in the last two years) or new plants in your landscape, additional moisture is usually required for establishment. If this is the case, make sure that your irrigation system is functioning properly (if you have one – check heads and nozzles), that you are avoiding irrigating in windy conditions and think about installing drip irrigation in your perennial beds to dramatically reduce water usage. If your system is more than 10 years old, you may want to consider having a professional evaluate your existing system. Newer technology has greatly increased watering efficiency.

Other water-wise practices include:

Continue to add organic matter (soil amendments, compost, clippings) at the rate of 1 inch per year to help retain moisture.

Apply 2 to 3 inches of plant-based mulch to help reduce evaporation.

Allow your established Kentucky bluegrass lawn to go dormant. I realize this may be a hard pill to swallow, but bluegrass (as well as fine fescue) has the ability to go dormant (brown) during prolonged drought. While it may be visually unappealing, it will greatly reduce the amount of water you apply and could save the lawn.

Plant drought-tolerant plants. Many of our native plants thrive with very little moisture. Homeowners can reduce or eliminate virtually all supplemental irrigation once these natives are established. For lists of drought-tolerant, or xeric, plants, go to www.ext.colostate.edu and search for “Xeriscaping.”

If you are in the process of planning your landscape, use 2012 as a model of what one can expect. Design (or have a professional design) your space so that it promotes water conservation. This does not equate to a pile of rocks and a ceramic burro pulling a cart. The palate of xeric plants is both varied and enormous. Additionally, the use of hardscapes – pathways, retaining walls, etc. – boulders, rocks and mulch can transform a landscape, even without plants.

Drought and fires (thanks again to all the amazing firefighters who have kept our homes safe) should force us to think twice about how we landscape – which doesn’t mean giving up or sacrificing our outdoor space.

Lastly, today is my daughter Elena’s birthday. Nine years ago today, I began the journey of fatherhood and I am a better person for it. So happy birthday, Sweet Pea. I love you more than you will ever know.

parmenterdm@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.