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With more than half of the country now officially under moderate to extreme drought conditions, the Great Drought of 2012 is already the worst dry spell in the last 50 years, and there's no end in sight. Conserving water is a moral imperative at a time like this. But even during non-drought conditions, conserving water can save you money on your water bill and help save one of the Earth's most precious resources--fresh water.
Here are some simple ways to minimize the need to water you lawn and garden this summer:
- Mulch garden beds and around trees and shrubs to help retain moisture: Put a layer of newspaper down before you mulch to help prevent weed growth and keep even more moisture in the soil. Also, allow grass clippings to remain on the lawn after you cut it to retain moisture and provide nutrients.
- Cut grass properly: Never shave off more than one-third of your lawn's height when you cut it (ideally to a height of about 3.5 inches after cutting). Leaving grass taller retains more moisture and forces it to develop deeper roots. Keep mower blades sharp for a clean cut; dull blades tear the grass and can result in the plants needing 50 percent more water to recover.
- Water early in the day: Ideally gardens and lawns should be watered between 4-9 a.m. (try an automatic timer if you're not an early riser!). Watering during the heat of the day results in much of the water being lost through evaporation.
- Fertilize lawns less: Heavily fertilized lawns are more susceptible to the stress caused by drought conditions and therefore require more watering. Apply less fertilizers to your lawn this summer (or none at all), and consider holding off on applying fertilizer until the fall, when it's actually most effective.
- Manage water efficiently: Check hoses, faucets, and in-ground sprinkler systems for leaks. Direct downspouts around the house to deliver rainwater to areas where it's most needed. Consider installing old-fashioned rain barrels to catch water from downspouts that would otherwise enter storm sewers or become runoff; rain barrels provide a handy reservoir to water garden and house plants without ever having to turn on the tap... and run up your water bill.