July 09, 2016

Conserving water on your property

Conserving water on your property
By The West View

Salt Lake City residents live in the second driest state in the nation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Conserving water in our semi-arid climate – with hot, dry summers – makes sense.

The following are suggested ways to conserve water on your property. My wife, Karen, and I have successfully used these conservation methods in our own Salt Lake City yard for decades.             

Plant more desert plants, instead of exotic, water-guzzling plants that currently surround most of our homes. You can visit the Jordan River Water Conservancy District or Red Butte Gardens to get landscaping ideas that keep your yard attractive while conserving more water.

Karen and I have had a lot of success using native trees and shrubs surrounded by ground covers like phlox, sedum, and thyme that insulate the soil; and bulb flowers like crocus, tulips and daffodils that provide lots of color in the spring – all requiring very little water.

Salt Lake City no longer requires you to only grow water-hungry Kentucky Bluegrass and shade trees in “their” parking strip in front of your house. Twenty years ago, before the famous Utah Rivers Council “Rip Your Strip” promotion, we ripped out the lawn in our parking strip and have saved water and money since. We dropped the soil level in the strip and moved 22 wheelbarrow loads of beautiful topsoil out of that strip to our backyard vegetable box bed garden.

Lower the soil level in planting beds that are adjacent to hard surfaces, like driveways and sidewalks, to keep water from running off into the street and down our storm drains. This will not only increase percolation of water into the soil, but will also reduce the amount of polluted runoff water that kills fish and other aquatic life in the Jordan River.

Another way to decrease runoff is to minimize the use of hard surfaces. For example, use either movable, elevated stepping pads in higher traffic areas, or turfstone in driveways and patios. Concrete turfstone provides a lattice which even allows planting lawn in its holes.

Watering during dry periods works well for traditional shallow-rooted exotic plants, but the opposite is usually true for the above recommended xeric (desert) plants. They have adapted to drier conditions by preserving their water by closing their stomata (mouths) during dry periods, but open up to absorb water in anticipation of rain. Over-watering during dry periods promotes shallower roots.

Many Utah native plants can send their roots about eight feet down to our local water table. Sage brush, like the one in our parking strip, can send roots down at least 25 feet, and once established, requires no additional water. However, watering desert plants if it is predicted to rain, but fails to accumulate more than a half an inch allows you to “fill them up.”

Use some of the leaves and lawn clippings from your yard as mulch around your plants. Mulch conserves water by first capturing the water as it falls from the sky or overhead sprinklers, and then by insulating the soil from Utah’s hot, dry conditions, reducing evaporation.

Catch and use all of the rain and snow melt off of your roof. Either divert water from your rain gutter to where it can easily enter the soil, or catch it in a rain barrel for later use. Rain barrels may be purchased from Utah Rivers Council or Salt Lake City Public Utilities.

We invite you to check out our front yard at 415 South 1000 West, knock on our door or give us a call at (801) 596-1536 if you want to learn more about conserving water on your property.

(Photo Caption:) The beautiful, low maintenance xeric plants we put in the strip have attracted attention in our neighborhood. Photo by Dan Potts