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Watering the Weeds

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Water is much more than quenching our thirst.  Drought conditions only bring the value of water to light for each of us.  Water is like money.  Every drop that comes into your household helps to sustain your family.  Every gallon that runs through your faucet sustains the food in your garden and provides a higher quality of life.

It is hard to imagine that water can become so critical because there is so much of it.  97% of all our water is saltwater.  The 13,600 desalination factories produce 6.8 billion gallons which equate to less than 1% of our needs.  Icebergs hold 2% of the entire world’s water.  That leaves us with 1% fresh water to drink, bathe in, raise crops and build things.  That 1% gets divided three ways; agriculture, municipalities, and industry.

Agriculture, or growing our food, uses 69%.  Municipalities, or basically our household water, use 21%.  Building things, or industry, uses 10%.  Take those percentages and add the ballooning world population, and a waterless future is rushing at us like a freight train.

How do all these numbers and percentages apply to your home?  Is it possible to make a difference?  Our yards use 57% of our residential water.  Our yards are the variable that may be improved easily, versus the toilet (11%), clothes washer (9%), shower (7%), faucets (6%), leaks (6%) and others (4%).

Maintaining your yard is important.  Your yard provides you with value to your home, your trees provide shade and your garden provides food.  Thinking about water conservation means you are thinking about saving money and saving vegetation.

Don’t water the weeds.  Watering weeds, or even plants you don’t care for, or are taking out is a waste.  Skip the gym, get your yoga pants on and do some stretching by pulling those weeds.  Pull them early prior to seed production. Also, water where you want the roots to grow.  This is important to create balance on the growth pattern of roots on your trees.  It helps the trees hold in the soil to remain steadfast and upright.

Irrigation saves money when it waters what, when, and how you want.  It needs to be designed to reach all your plants.  The installation has to have the right products for the plants you have.  A good example would be irrigation lines circling the drip line and more of your trees with the correct size emitters.  Tree roots grow past the canopy of the tree.  Most roots are in the top one foot of soil.  Today’s irrigation technology also includes electronic timers that run water only on sunny days and water different sections of your yard for a specific time, and on specific days.  Timers should be monitored and adjusted with the seasons.  You control your timer, it should not control you.

We have all heard of nightmare plants that require extra water, extra special fertilizer, and extra hand holding.  You can save up to 60% of the typical household water usage by switching to low-water-use plants.  Some people think that means a cactus with thorns.  While some like cactus, there are alternatives; grasses, native plants, wildflowers, and many varieties of flowering plants require less water.

When purchasing plants, look for the low-water designation on the tag.  Group plants together that share similar water needs.  Plants like penstemon, lavenders, salvia, iris, sage, and coreopsis.  They are all water-wise perennials that need less water, cost less, since they are perennial and long-lasting and are less work.  They all have beautiful blooms.

Water gives us life.  A life with controlling how we use our water will keep our plants and ourselves well hydrated. Small adjustments today will give us large benefits in our future.

Julie Silva is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County. UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire here. Check out our website here. You can also find us on Facebook.

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