How Green Is Your Garden?

By Rickie Harvey
As published in The West Roxbury Transcript
Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saving energy and saving money moves outdoors in the summer months, of course, and with the recent heat, it seems timely to think about water conservation and other smart choices for tending your lawn and garden.

Consider conserving water this summer by watering your lawn only in the early morning (to avoid high rates of mid-day evaporation) and not relying on automated sprinklers, which have been shown to use 20 to 30 percent more water than handheld hoses. If you must use automated systems, be sure to install a rain or soil moisture sensor that turns off the water when it isn’t needed. Avoid watering when it is raining or in the heat of the middle of the day.

You actually shouldn’t worry if your grass turns brown—grass naturally becomes dormant in hot, dry weather. The lawn will revive when the temperatures turn cooler or after a steady rain.

The kinds of flowers and plants you choose also can affect the amount of water you need and how efficiently you use it. Plant low-water use varieties and mulch to keep the roots cool and moist. Try to cluster together plants that need lots of moisture for efficient watering. It helps to pay attention to the various zones in your yard—where it is sunniest/hottest versus shadier and cooler. Select plants that thrive in these areas accordingly. One easy way to prevent runoff, which wastes water, is to poke holes in the ground around plants and flowers to help capture water.

The best way to water plants and flowers is at ground level, through a soaker hose, in a process called drip irrigation. Sprinklers deliver as much as 400 gallons per hour, which is more than the soil can absorb before runoff and evaporation occur. In addition, the water doesn’t penetrate deep enough to moisten the roots. Drip irrigation delivers water slowly and in the right amount, with no evaporation or runoff. It also discourages weeds by not watering where you have no plants.

Soaker hoses use between 30 and 50 percent less water than sprinklers, so they save you money as well as conserve water. Available at True Value on Centre Street, soaker hoses are perforated with thousands of tiny holes out of which water seeps slowly. You can place soaker hoses along the top of the ground or bury them just unde the soil or mulch. Compare different kinds of soaker hoses by their ratings, which indicate how many gallons of water per hour per foot each one releases.

You can also employ large containers and rain barrels to capture rain from your downspouts to use in your garden. Be sure to discourage mosquito breeding by covering the tops of open containers with a mesh fabric or by dripping a bit of baby oil onto the surface of the water.

Another good way to save energy (and money) is to use a hand-push lawn mower. Not only will you get great exercise, you help the environment by not consuming gas or electricity. And if you are concerned about your household carbon footprint (how much you contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change), remember that gas mowers put significant carbon emissions into the air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, traditional gas-powered lawn mowers’ emissions are responsible for as much as 5 percent of the nation’s total air pollution.

Project Evergreen (projectevergreen.com) lists composting as one of the five easiest ways to improve your lawn and garden. Not only does composting enrich your soil, it cuts down on your trash, which helps the environment by not ending up in landfills. All kinds of items can regenerate your soil, including coffee grounds, filters, and dryer lint when combined with yard clippings, wood chips, and leaves. According to Project Evergreen, “The breakdown of these materials creates humus, which is a nutrient-filled material, helping the soil to retain moisture. Compost can also cut down on plant disease and repel pests that are damaging to your yard.”

Think about cultivating your “green” thumb this summer by following some of these tips; with smart planning, you can conserve water and have a beautiful yard.