By John Schaffner

With the continuing challenges from the present drought and prospects of a less satisfying water situation in the future—largely the result of continued explosive growth in the metro Atlanta area—Sandy Springs and Buckhead residents are searching for ways to conserve water and maintain their gardens and lawns.

Horticulturist Jim Harrington offered drought-related gardening advice to some 30 concerned residents during a free two-hour program Sunday afternoon, Nov. 17, in the Garden Room of the Williams-Payne House at Heritage Green in Sandy Springs. The program was sponsored by Heritage Sandy Springs.

His suggestions included:

Select native plants instead of exotics for gardens—they fare better in these conditions.

Consider using Bermuda grass when planting a lawn—it is more tolerant of reduced watering than fescue is.

Consider that pretty much everyone overwaters their grass.

Water only those plants that are stressed and really need water.

Use mulch to protect plants.

Consider the use of polymer products around roots that absorb and then release water when planting.

Hand watering with a nozzle is the most inefficient way to water.

Consider collecting rain water, using grey water and even the water in the swimming pool for watering gardens and lawns.

Consider a water pillow for collection and storage of rain water and/or grey water for future use.

Harrington stressed that most people generally overwater everything-grass and their plants and trees. He said 50 percent of the water can be saved if homeowners will look to see when these are stressed and only water them when they are stressed and need it.

He said most grasses can go three weeks in the summer without being watered.

As for plants, he suggested going two to four weeks without watering them next summer. Harrington said gardeners need to look for indicator plants to tell them when watering is necessary. Those are the first plants to wilt in a particular area.

“Water that wilted plant and allow the rest of the landscape to show you which plants of those need watering next,” he added.

He indicated that one step gardeners might take is to prune their plants now. “There is a lot of pruning you can do—pruning, shaping. They may not have that lush green growth that sucks up a lot more water than darker green growth,” he suggested. He did indicate a lot of the pruning has to be determined plant by plant.

On the subject of grey water, he said it is something everyone should consider capturing and using for watering plants, etc. “We generate a lot more grey water than we can every use,” he told the group. He suggested everyone plug up their bathtub when they take a shower and then collect that water with a bucket or possibly using a sump pump. “Throw a hose out the window (possibly to a collection barrel or to what needs to be watered) and you are done.”

He suggested a two-story home with baths upstairs poses a problem. “You are going to have to determine how much water you can collect downstairs without having to re-plumb the house.”

Harrington told the group that with a recent quarter-inch of rain, he collected 800 gallons of water in his rain barrel. The rain barrel is completely separate from all other water sources in a house.

He also demonstrated using flexible downspout materials to tap into the gutter system of a house to divert the rain water to a rain barrel or other holding device.

One item of particular interest to those attending was a water pillow—designed to go in the crawl space under a house—that he had on display and which will hold 1,200 gallons of water. Harrington said a dry water or pond pump that pumps at 25 pounds per square inch pumps 10-12 gallons per minute and can be used to water the landscape using the water in a rain barrel or water pillow.