May 01, 2021 9:59 AM

From the Ellis Co. Master Gardeners: WaterSmart demonstration garden

Posted May 01, 2021 9:59 AM

 Landscape irrigation typically accounts for about 50% of total household water use. This can be reduced significantly by using the principles of WaterSmart landscaping. The WaterSmart Perennial Demonstration Garden at 601 Main in Hays serves to educate the public on smart practices that reduce the amount of water required for irrigation purposes. 

One important WaterSmart principle is to use drought-tolerant plants that do not require much water to perform at their best. This garden provides opportunities for gardeners to be introduced to select drought-tolerant plant varieties and observe how these plants perform under our local conditions. 

In this garden, there are about 70 drought-tolerant plants representing 44 different cultivars. 

Plants are identified with labels to indicate common name, scientific name, and cultivation tips. When plants are in their prime, look for enlarged plant labels. These contain additional information and a QR link to the Missouri Botanical Garden where you can learn how the plant grows, how to cultivate it, and much more. 

A well-established drought-tolerant garden may still need some irrigation, especially during hot windy conditions. Any new perennial planting will require consistent moisture until the roots are well established (usually two to three years) including during dry periods of winter. 

Consider using captured rain water in rain barrels or creating natural rainwater divergent methods. This demonstration garden uses water from a large rain barrel which collects runoff water from the roof of this building. 

Of course, it’s more than just watering plants correctly… it is the combination of sound gardening principles. Used together, you can create a garden that not only conserves water but is creative and beautiful. Here are some more important WaterSmart Gardening Principles: 

Planning and Design 

Select plants according to the amount of sunlight or shade they will get. Know your planting zone (Hays is in Growing Zone 6A). Take into account the mature plant size when laying out your garden so that you do not crowd the roots. A nice root structure is healthier for the plant and, when spaced properly, plants will not compete for soil moisture. 

Soil Preparation 

Amend your garden bed with organic matter to help loosen heavy clay soils and increase water absorption. Get a soil test to find out if your soil is needing any nutrient amendments. 

Efficient Irrigation 

Throughout the growing season, water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep, more drought-tolerant roots. After your plants are established, only water when the soil at the root depth is dry. You can use a soil moisture probe to check this. 

Mulch 

A 2-4” layer of organic mulch decreases soil temps, limits evaporation, discourages weeds, and eventually breaks down to improve the soil. Gravel or rock should not be used over plant roots. They compact the soil removing the tiny air spaces within the soil for oxygen and moisture that the roots need. Rock also gets hot and can lead to root and foliage dehydration. 

Right Plant, Right Place 

Select low water use or drought-tolerant plants if possible. If some plants are “thirstier” and require a bit more water on a regular basis, group those plants together. 

Proper Maintenance 

Proper pruning, weeding, fertilizing, watering, and insect/disease control are important to maintain the health of your garden. Healthier plants can better tolerate occasional droughts. 

Stop by the WaterSmart Perennial Demonstration Garden to enjoy the beautiful variety of plants that grow well in our climate. The Garden is located on the south side of the Ellis County Extension Office at 601 Main in Hays. It was planned, planted, and is maintained by the Ellis County Master Gardeners. Partial funding was provided by the City of Hays Water Department for the purpose of demonstrating and promoting wise water use in the landscape.