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Rains come just in time for spring planting

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Georgia’s last frost date has passed. And just in time for spring garden planting, rain has returned to Georgia. But those water-conservation habits learned during the drought can still be a sustainable way to keep landscapes healthy.

“Just because we’ve seen a lot of rain in the past few weeks doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about water conservation in the landscape,” said Todd Hurt, a program coordinator with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture in Griffin, Ga. “But, Georgians can get busy planting in their gardens.”

Drought conditions over the past three years have had many Georgia gardeners holding off on planting annuals and new shrubs. But with some smart planning, it’s OK to plant what you want, he said.

“Simply concentrate high-water-use plants such as annual color plants or highly maintained turf in locations where we can supplement rainfall when necessary,” he said.

Hurt recommends developing a strategy to water plants with only one or two moves of a hose-end sprinkler.

“The water illogic areas in your landscape will become obvious if you think of it this way,” he said. “The narrow strip of turf next to the street or long line of annuals next to the established shrub bed would be the last to get water.”

He suggests planting annual color plants in small beds or containers close together. This will give your landscape the color and texture you want, but still conserve water. Other ways to conserve include mulching and using drip or soaker hoses when possible. A professional audit of your irrigation system can help find and correct problems, too.

“There are tons of new technologies on the market,” he said. “There are new lawn rotator heads that use fingerlets of water versus one concentrated stream which allows for a more even wetting of the soil. There are even sprinkler heads that shut off when damaged. That's right. We can prevent the irrigation geysers we have all seen at the mall parking lot.”

Georgia’s population continues to grow, creating greater demand on its limited water supply.

Though the rain has returned, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division will monitor certain indicators that must return to normal for around four consecutive months before it will change statewide water restrictions.

However, HB 1281, passed last year, says local water providers can request a modified drought level based on their water supplies.

“I heard from a couple of sources that Athens/Clarke County and others in that watershed have asked or will be asking to go to level 4b, which is two days a week water use by May,” he said. “Another 57 or so water providers in the drought level 4 area are already approved for outdoor water use two or three days a week.”

No matter what drought level your county is in, he said, 25 minutes a day of hand watering is allowed on the odd-even system. If that time is used wisely, most plants will not only survive, but will do well.

“Water conservation efforts should continue, even though we are getting rain,” he said. “It’s the responsible thing to do.”

To find out what drought level you are facing, go online to: http://www.gawp.org/GAOutdoorWaterRestrictions.pdf

(Faith Peppers is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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