JoAnne Skelly: Save water and your landscape

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Cooperative Extension’s Dr. Heidi Kratsch is a specialist in water efficient landscaping and has written a book on the subject — “Water Efficient Landscaping in the Intermountain West.” In a recent class, she provided techniques to conserve water without damaging the landscape.

Kratsch pointed out “the elements of landscape design for low water landscapes do not differ greatly from design of conventional landscapes, however greater emphasis is placed on grouping plants according to their water needs, placing plants in the landscape in a way that their water needs are minimized, and using plant species or cultivars that are adapted to our climate.” She discussed the importance of evaluating a site as the first step in making appropriate plant selections. Things to consider when selecting plants are the growing conditions of the site, including the hardiness zone; the direction the landscaped areas face, and particularly those areas that receive the most sun or shade throughout the day.

Plants should be grouped in hydrozones, separate irrigation zones based on their needs. Shady and sunny areas should not be in the same zone. High-water-use plants should be used only in high visibility areas and not in the same zone as low-water-use plants. Areas with different soil types should not be in the same zone. Each hydrozone should be on a separate valve. Ideally, lawns (when feasible) should also be in a separate zone.

Some examples of very low-water-use plants include desert-adapted plants such as penstemon, buckwheat or pinyon pine. Low-water-use plants include most native plants such as stanleya, skunkbush and lilac, or adapted plants such as potentilla, blanketflower or lavender. Medium-water-use plants include flowering plum, crab apple, fruit or spruce trees.

Here are ideal root depths by plant type: trees — 18 to over 24 inches; shrubs — 12 to 18 inches; herbaceous plants — 6 to 12 inches; and turf grass — up to 8 inches. Watering to the correct depth allows for less frequent watering and plants that can resist drought because their roots are deeper.

Avoid planting turf in areas that are difficult to mow or irrigate. If the only time you see your lawn is when you mow, you can probably replace it with a less water-thirsty ground cover. Aerate lawns yearly with a hollow-tine aerator to improve water penetration. Fertilize once in fall and once in spring only. Mow high.

You can help your landscape be more drought resistant and save water with proper planning, care and maintenance.

Grow Your Own classes, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Carson Cooperative Extension office — “Garden Clean-up for Pest Prevention” today and “Composting Kitchen and Garden Waste” on Wednesday. Call 775-887-2252, or email for more information.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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