Smarter Hawaii landscaping

Koko Head District Park Rain Garden

Now that summer is here, with some of the hottest and driest days of the year in Hawaii, it’s a good time to take a second look at our lawns and gardens. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply estimates that 50% of our water consumption is used outdoors, sometimes wastefully. Adding a rain garden, changing our irrigation schedule, or choosing lower-maintenance “unthirsty” plants could help conserve water.

Xeriscaping – conserving water through efficient landscaping – is one way that we can save water, as well as save money on our water bills, and keep our yards, sidewalks, and public spaces beautiful.

Here are 7 principles of xeriscaping, according to the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii:

1. Make a landscaping plan. Good planning and design allows you to install your landscape in phases, which minimizes initial expenses.

2. Limit and separate turf areas. Grassed areas frequently require the greatest amount of watering. Consider replacing or reducing grassed areas with ground covers or mulches. Separate turf grass from trees, shrubs, ground covers, and flowering plants, so that they can be irrigated separately.

3. Have a well-planned sprinkler system.For efficient water use, group garden plants according to similar water needs. Turf areas are best watered with sprinklers. Trees, shrubs, garden flowers and ground covers can be watered efficiently with low volume drip, spray or bubbler emitters. To reduce water waste, water lawns and gardens before 9 am and after 5 pm; and use moisture sensors (devices that shut down the sprinklers when the ground is wet or on rainy days).

4. Make soil improvementsSoil improvements and efficient grading can better absorb and retain water. But do them before installing your irrigation systems!

5. Create mulched planting bedsMulches cover and cool soil, minimize evaporation, reduce weed growth, and slow erosion. They also create landscape interest, while using less water than turf grass. Organic mulches (such as bark chips, wood grindings or bagasse) and inorganic mulches (such as rock and gravel) should be placed directly on the soil or on breathable fabric.

6. Choose “less thirsty” plants. There are many flowering trees, shrubs, vines, and turf grasses that are both beautiful and require less water. Native Hawaiian plants especially thrive on natural rainfall.

7. Do regular maintenance. Pruning, weeding, proper fertilization, pest control, and adjustments to your irrigation system can further your water savings.

If you need inspiration for your garden, stop by the Healthy Watershed Demonstration site at the entrance to Koko Head District Park in East Honolulu (pictured above). The sloping, sunken garden, which filters rainwater and lets it soak into the ground, is surrounded by rocks and native Hawaiian plants. It’s installed and maintained by Mālama Maunalua, a community non-profit organization.

Looking for Native Hawaiian plants? Read the “How to Plant a Native Hawaiian Garden” handbook from the Office of Environmental Quality Control. Or check out the Annual Halawa Xeriscape Garden Open House on August 2, 2014 and their Unthirsty Plant Sale.

Interested in taking a xeriscaping class? Visit the Honolulu Board of Water Supply for a list of and workshops on Oahu.

How do you conserve water? What are the easiest and cheapest ways to cut down on your water bill?

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