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BEST: Water Wise Landscapes
Ashley Best
Ashley Best - photo by Special Photo

As temperatures begin to soar and the rain slows down to make way for the summer heat, our landscapes get drier and drier. Water is the most essential element for all living things. Lawns and gardens can lose up to one third of an inch of water a day. It is hard to replace this just by watering. You need a water wise landscape.

Irrigation systems (sprinkler systems) do not necessarily solve this problem. In fact, your sprinklers may be soaking more than your lawn. Do an irrigation audit to make your system more efficient and to save up to 25 percent on your lawn watering bill. Start by flagging your sprinklers. Set up ten to twelve rain gauges or heavy cups in a line from sprinkler to sprinkler. Run the system for an hour or so and compare how much water each area gets. Be sure to check areas that grow poorly. Check at night, if possible, for best results. Expect some variation and adjust sprinklers for better coverage. Some people have to add sprinkler heads to improve coverage. You can do this with portable sprinklers also. Remember that lawns require one inch of water whenever they get dry - usually every week or so. It is not recommended to water every day. Water efficiently with a deep soaking of half an inch twice a week if there is no rain. Be sure to have a rain gauge and turn off your irrigation if there has been sufficient rainfall.

What time of day you water matters, too. Watering between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. has two advantages. You lose less water to evaporation at night and plants dry quickly after sunrise and stay dry all day - reducing disease. Watering early in the morning between 5 a.m. and 9  a.m. is the best practice. You can reduce the amount of time the leaves are wet as well as the environment needed for diseases to grow and develop.

Turfgrass requires a lot of water compared to other landscape plants. Select a drought tolerant turf. The turf types listed from most drought tolerant to most drought susceptible are Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede and Zoysia. Bermudagrass is going to be the most drought tolerant and is bred specifically to withstand the Georgia summers. If necessary, reduce the amount of lawn you have by adding more annual/ native flower or shrub beds. Shrubs, trees, ground covers, and mulched areas require less water and weekly maintenance.

Water wise landscapes start before planting. Soil sample and lime and fertilize, according to the sample results as needed. Group plants in the landscape based on water needs and then water accordingly. Call or email the Newton County Extension Office for a list of drought tolerant plants. Deep till areas to be planted, including turf areas. Do not plant too deeply and dig very large planting holes for trees and shrubs to ensure the roots have enough space to reach out. Water in and mulch well to slow water loss. Improve shrubs, perennials, and annual flower beds with two to four inches of compost tilled in. You can find cheap or free sources of compost through the Newton County Extension Office. Be careful when utilizing horse or cow manure as sometimes pastures are sprayed with herbicides that have a residual effect.

Fall is the best planting time for trees and shrubs. It gives them time to recover before the hot, dry summer. Prepare for Fall plantings of trees, shrubs and bulbs to ensure you have a wonderful waterwise landscape next spring. Fall planting is an important secret of successful gardeners.

A water wise landscape is a healthy landscape. It requires less money and maintenance to look good throughout the whole season. 

For more information about water wise landscapes, visit the Newton ANR Blog at or you can call or email the Newton County Extension Office.

Ashley Best is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent with Newton County Extension Service. She can be reached at