Keep your soil healthy!
Healthy soils cycle nutrients effectively, minimize runoff, retain water, and absorb excess nutrients, sediments, and pollutants. Have your soil tested for nutrient content, pH, soil composition, and organic matter content. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Office or state universities for a soil test kit or soil testing services. Very sandy soil, heavy clay, compacted soil, or extreme soil pH may impact which plants are right for your yard. In these cases, seek advice from a nursery, horticulturist, Cooperative Extension, or other expert.
Aerate your soil.
Soil can become compacted during home construction or from normal foot traffic. Aerating your soil with a simple lawn aerator can increase the infiltration of water into the ground, improving water flow to the plant’s root zone and reducing water runoff.
Use mulch to save water and improve soil health.
In addition to making landscapes attractive, mulch adds an extra layer between plant roots and air, helping to protect plants in a variety of ways. Mulch helps reduce evaporation, which allows soil to retain water longer and means plants require less frequent watering. Mulch also helps plants thrive by inhibiting weed growth, preventing soil erosion, and moderating soil temperature.
Different plants require different soil conditions, so it’s best to choose a mulch type based on plant varieties and their soil needs. Organic mulch such as hardwood chips, straw, leaves, pine needles, or grass clippings will help improve the condition of soil, by adding nutrients as it decomposes. Inorganic mulches like rocks, pebbles, or gravel may help to eliminate weeds. Avoid using rock mulches in sunny areas or around non-arid climate plants, as they radiate large amounts of heat and promote water loss that can lead to scorching.
Applying mulch to a depth of three to four inches provides the right coverage for most plants; excessive amounts of mulch can restrict water flow to plant roots. Leave a few inches of space between organic mulches and the base of trees or other woody plants to prevent rot. Don’t forget to pull any weeds prior to mulching and spread evenly to prevent thin areas where the mulch can’t do its job. The eXtension program (part of the Cooperative Extension System) has additional information about mulch and water conservation.
Minimize steep slopes.
Slopes can be challenging because of the potential for erosion and runoff. If slopes cannot be avoided in your landscape design, install plantings with deeper root zones such as native ground covers and shrubs to provide stabilization and prevent erosion.
Use soil amendments where appropriate.
Soil amendments can be organic or inorganic. They are mixed into the soil and can provide short-term and long-term water saving benefits. Plants require water in the soil to grow healthy and soil amendments help the soil to retain moisture so that you do not have to irrigate as often.