Watering - A Guide to Conservation by Stan Osekavage and Curtis Smith

Once you have installed a Xeriscape, and the sprinklers are redesigned and adjusted, here are some valuable and common sense guidelines for watering in the high desert of Albuquerque.

Water in the early mornings, waiting until just before wilting occurs, and then give each garden a good, long drink as the plants require. Think in terms of low, moderate, and high water needs and adjust the supply with the demand.

High water turf like blue-grass may need watering every other or every third day in the hottest months only. Bermuda grass needs less, and Buffalo grass even less. Test the endurance of your turf areas, and treat them accordingly. Measure the watering rate of your sprinkling system in inches per hour by placing a can in your yard and turning on the sprinklers and then do the math to give each turf area only what it needs. High water turf needs up to 40 inches per year and Buffalo only ten inches. Remember, they all need little to nothing in Winter, some in Spring and Fall, and most in the hot, dry Summer.

Soil content differs. Applying water to your lawn and gardens will vary. Turf is best watered in short bursts, allowing time to penetrate, then followed with another burst, and then another until a depth of 6 to 8 inches is achieved. If the long drink is applied in one continuous watering, there will be waste in run-off and some areas will benefit from ponding in the low areas while other areas will suffer from being on top of the hill. Gardens too, need time to absorb the water from flood irrigation or through soaker hoses. Drip irrigation is the most efficient but is not always applicable to all planted areas.

Learn your garden’s different needs and water them accordingly. One rule does not fit all. Some xeric areas will need less water than other areas. Test their tolerance to the wilt point, and cut down the water to those areas designed to take it, especially once they have matured. With mulches on top, it is reasonable to only water gardens once or twice a month even in the hottest weather. Most xeric gardens may only need some supplemental water during the hot and dry Summer. Otherwise, they will be fine without any extra water at all above what Mother Nature provides, which in Albuquerque is about 8 inches in the Summer and another 2 to 6 inches in the Winter.

While a properly designed and managed landscape will allow more water savings than traditional landscapes, many traditionally planted landscapes do not use water as efficiently as they could. Many gardeners over water. Traditional wisdom tells us that when plants aren't doing well, add water. In come cases, water may help. Other times, the problem is due to insects or disease which are enhanced by over watering. Treatment may involve reduced watering or other management techniques.

It may be hard at first to let go of old ways of watering, but once you take the time to learn your different lawn and garden requirements and trust these tested changes, you will begin to enjoy your landscape more. It is rewarding to have educated yourself and mastered your water use in the landscape thus helping to conserve our most precious resource in the desert.