There is a lot of talk about the drought we are experiencing in Colorado. But is this really a drought? I guess it all depends on your perspective or situation.
A drought has been defined as a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall; a shortage of water resulting from this. Our area has been rated as under extreme drought conditions.
But our current rainfall pattern has been fairly normal over the last several months. So nothing unusual there. What is abnormal is the amount of snow we have received this winter, less than 50 percent of what we usually expect. My personal snowfall amount was 25 percent of normal.
So what does this mean to the average gardener in western Colorado? Well it depends. If you rely on ditch water, you are probably facing significant reductions in available water for your garden. One only needs to look at Surface Creek to see how dire our ditch water situation is. On April 7 stream flow near Cedaredge was about 4.5 cubic feet per second. The historical median for this date is about 11 cubic feet/second. And flow should be increasing -- it is not.
If you are using town water, then it all depends upon whether your particular municipality decides to place restrictions on water use.
So far, I am moving ahead as usual with my watering plans with one exception. I watered my entire landscape during the period of February through March. Usually, snow and winter rains allow me to forgo this winter watering, depending how rapidly we warm up in the spring. If you didn't do any winter watering you may be in trouble, especially in the valley areas. I expect to see a lot of plant problems due to lack of winter watering once we really start to warm up.
For me, since I watered my landscape in the winter, I expect to use my usual watering practices for the rest of the season. Much of my landscape gets watered deeply every 30 to 90 days, depending upon the water needs of the particular plants. This represents about two-thirds of my landscape.
And lawns? I have about 800 square feet of buffalo grass I water every 30-45 days. And I mow it three times. Why so many Coloradans have this fixation on large expanses of water-thirsty grass is beyond me.
So what can you do to reduce your yard's water needs? First, mulch everything, preferably with an organic mulch such as shredded bark, except where you have very xeric plants. For them use a gravel cover such as a trail mix. An organic mulch here would suffocate these plants through water-logged soils.
I would also consider two other steps. One, consider reducing the size of your lawn. I know you enjoy mowing but really, there are other worthy things to do with your time. Two, consider replacing some of your more thirsty plants with more xeric ones. There are some really attractive plants out there. All you need to do is look and ask.
Last but not least. Because of our dry conditions, there is an increased danger from wildfires. Please, don't burn unless absolutely necessary. And I would certainly do a general cleanup around the yard. Reduce the amount of combustible plant material that is close to your house. This is especially important for those that live in more rural areas where there are large expanses of vegetated land just primed for burning.
Garden planning and advance preparations can take the sting out of the possibility of higher water bills and increased fire danger. I for one really enjoy my landscape but value my house way more. So should you.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.
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