Water-saving suggestions

Take steps now to reduce your water bill

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San Francisco Chronicle file photo

Since cooler weather means lawns need less water, turn your automatic sprinkles to manual operation. Twice a year, have your irrigation system checked for leaks.

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Houston Chronicle file photo

A 4-inch layer of mulch conserves water, lowers soil temperature and reduces weeds.

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If you want to reduce your water bill or are just interested in reducing water use as long as it won’t hurt the landscape, consider the following suggestions.

• Change your irrigation control from automatic to manual. Especially this time of the year, with its cooler temperatures and shorter days, lawns do not grow as much and only need water every two or three weeks. If you only water when the lawn is dry, an infestation of brown patch fungus is less likely.

• Once or twice per year (and whenever you discover a leak) have your irrigation contractor inspect your irrigation system to find and repair leaks and to adjust sprinkler heads to ensure they are covering the lawn evenly.

• Change out the rain sensor every two years. They are inexpensive and do not last long.

• Convert sprinkler zones that are watering flowers, vegetables, trees or shrubs to drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is much more efficient because it lays the water directly over the root system and not in the air or on the foliage. The publication “Dripline Gardening” by Tom Harris and Ron Csehil from thehillcountry gardener.com website describes how to make and manage a drip system.

• Limit watering of established, well-adapted trees and shrubs to hand watering in the rare situation where they may need supplemental irrigation. Most prosper without irrigation.

• Convert portions of your lawn to low-maintenance, drought-tolerant groundcovers and hardscape. This is an ideal time of the year to do the work. Visit the SAWS website, saws.org, to find plant lists, design suggestions and coupons that provide financial incentives to help make the conversions.

• For new plantings, incorporate compost into the whole planting area (not the planting hole) to improve drainage and water-holding capabilities of the soil. The unique particle structure of organic material allows it to do both.

• Cover the soil over newly planted trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables with mulch to reduce growth of weeds, soil temperatures and water evaporation. Shredded brush and leaves work very well. Pecans and deciduous oaks drop their leaves now and you can use the live oak leaves that fall in February. Use 4 inches of mulch.

• If you decide that you are going to have a lawn on a new property or want to improve lawn success on an established landscape, make sure there are at least 6 inches of soil. Include 2 inches of compost with the new or old soil, and the cost of irrigation water will be paid back during the first dry year.

• Now through early spring (March) aerate and top-dress the lawn. The aeration creates channels to the roots for oxygen, water and nutrients and allows noxious gases to escape while it relieves compaction. Top dress with one-half inch of compost so that the organic material can infiltrate the grass roots.

• For new plantings of trees and shrubs, hand-water them when the soil dries under the mulch. Another option is to string out a leaky hose for the establishment period (one to two years). The leaky hose serves as a temporary, inexpensive drip system to apply water to the new plant root systems. The key to efficient leaky hose use is to run the water at low pressure (quarter turn) for several hours.

Calvin Finch is a retired Texas A&M horticulturist. calvinfinch@gmail.com

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