When it comes to saving water, the influence is felt in the pocketbook, and in the environment. In the Rogue Valley, we import acres of water to slake the thirst of people and plants, especially in the summer. In fact, the city of Medford's water travels from Butte Falls, with Rogue River water added to meet summer demand. That's quite a journey for water for it to end up running down the pavement and into the sewer. So how can you cut back?
"People tend to assume watering needs all over the yard are uniform, but that's not true," says Laura Hodnett, public information officer at the Medford Water Commission. "Lawns need more water than shrubs and trees. They also need it more regularly."
If you get a bill from the Medford Water Commission, they will analyze your watering system. That's true whether you live in Medford proper, or White City, says Laura Hodnett, the public information officer. The City of Ashland offers the same service. Check your bill or call your city for more information.
Another assumption that leads to excess water use is that all sprinklers are created equal. "The standard fixed spray-head sprinkler delivers water about twice as fast as rotating sprinklers," says Hodnett. To avoid problems, don't water shrubs and trees as often as you do lawns, and don't put the two types on the same timer.
Timing is an important water saving device. One of the best times to water is in the early hours of the morning, between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. If your system is not automatic, start your watering routine as early in the morning as possible.
The hottest part of the day is not the best time to water because the evaporation rate is so high, says Hodnett. Another bad time is between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., when many parts of the valley have stiff breezes that can distort spray patterns, she says. You lose twice with this problem: too much water in some areas and too little in others. Both problems can lead to unhealthy plants.
The signs of underwatering and overwatering can be alarmingly similar, and in our hot climate, many people reach for the hose when they see a plant drooping in the hot sun. However, if that plant has lost part of its root system due to too much water, adding even more water will make the problem much worse, possibly killing the plant. According to the Master Gardeners, the only way to know for sure is to look at the roots—if they are black instead of white or yellow, overwatering is causing the wilt.
Symptoms of overwatered plants are wilting and yellowing leaves, mushy stems and mold on the soil, says Myrl Bishop, Jackson County master gardener. Discover the cause of the dampness, and then let the area dry out. A trench can be dug around the plant to speed the process. If roots are rotting, they can be pruned away, but a corresponding amount should be pruned above ground, she says.
Both our experts recommend a moisture meter, which cost between $5 and $7, says Bishop. It's a quick and easy way to check moisture levels of your lawn after watering, says Hodnett. Water does not need to go below the root zone, which is about 8 inches down.
Overwatering is a common problem, says Bishop, sympathetically. "It's best to let the top layer, say the first inch, dry out before you start watering again."