Value of Landscapes

Planting of a landscape that provides shade

With spring weather finally in the forecast, I get excited thinking about my gardening activities for the summer. One of the things that is always on the front of my mind is watering. Will this be another dry year, a normal year (if Nebraska even has normal), or a wet year.

Water requirements should always be in your planning when planting anything new. For Nebraska it is best to go with more drought tolerant plants to plan for the worst case scenario. We all remember what our gardens looked like in the dreaded drought of 2012. Think of this when shopping for plants, choose those with lower water needs.

Landscapes are needed for many reasons. A landscape helps reduce soil erosion and dust issues, so we need to keep landscape plants around and healthy. A well-planted landscape can also help reduce pollution in our water supply. Turf and tree roots will help collect excess fertilizers and pesticides as well as lawn and garden waste to trap these things in the lawn rather than running down our storm drains, and as the drain lid will often tell you, those lead to our fresh water. Landscapes also reduce our cooling costs in the summer by shading our homes. Finally, landscapes enhance our lives by being aesthetically pleasing.

We want to maintain our landscapes for the benefits they provide, even in drought conditions. Water is a precious resource, we don’t have an unlimited supply. In drought situations, it is best to keep our water supply for other, more necessary reasons like drinking and producing food. So how do we protect our landscapes in these situations? Plant with a plan for drought conditions.

In 2012, many people asked me why the weeds were still doing well while everything else was dying or going dormant? This is because those weeds are adaptable and can change to fit what they are given. Not all of our landscape plants can do that. Keeping your lawn actively growing during drought will help with weed control by shading out the weeds. Tall fescue is better in short term droughts because they have a deeper root system allowing the turf to stay green and avoid dormancy. However, in long lasting drought conditions, like what we saw in 2012, the tall fescue died and the bluegrass survived. The reason for this is that bluegrass went dormant to avoid drought and tall fescue did not. Bluegrass can adapt better to extreme drought but in years that more closely resemble normal for Nebraska, tall fescue will be greener to compete with weeds better because it is able to find more water at deeper levels than the bluegrass which just goes dormant until fall weather returns.

Water plants correctly throughout the entire year. It is easy to overwater plants, they don’t always need as much as it seems they would. According to the Nebraska Forest Service: “Newly planted trees should receive no more than an inch of water a week during the growing season. Don’t water more than two or three times a week. Running automatic irrigation systems 20-30 minutes daily will severely damage the root system and can kill a tree.”

As for lawn irrigation, the bottom line is to keep the roots moist, not soggy or dry, and water to the bottom of the roots. Watering regularly through most of the year and stopping for vacation or in drought is more of a stressful situation to the lawn than not watering at all. A good way to manage irrigation in the lawn is to start by shutting off the automatic sprinklers and only watering as needed. Watch the lawn for signs of drought stress to determine when to water. According to the UNL Turf Department: “Typically, turf that is drought stressed will have a blue/purple tinge with leaf blades that are rolled or folded. You may also notice that your footprints are very visible in areas where you have walked”.

This article was reviewed by John Fech

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