Water-savings ideas for Idaho landscapes

Water-saving help for southern Idaho home landscapes

What if southern Idaho suffers a drought this summer? 

Since most southern Idaho counties can only count on some 10- to 12-inches of precipitation in even the best of years, common wisdom and declining water levels in reservoirs this year suggest water-wise landscapes for businesses and homeowners make the most sense.

Susan Bell: 29 years with UI Extension and still teaching water wisdom

University of Idaho Extension Educator Susan Bell, perhaps the dean of Ada County’s horticulture experts, figures she has taught water-wise landscaping to over 18,000 people at workshops in the past 29 years. “If 70 percent of participants reduced their irrigation water by adopting the techniques we taught, a potential of 292 million gallons of water could easily have been saved each year in southern Idaho,” Bell estimates.

While that figure can’t be documented, Bell can confirm figures by United Water – Boise Valley’s largest water purveyor – showing a 30 percent reduction in per capita water consumption in Boise over the past 10 years.

“Exact dollar savings for water in landscapes are tricky to get since some folks use irrigation water, others are on wells, and still others are on city water,” said Bell. “For lawns, I do know that you can save half the amount of water that you would usually use on bluegrass if you install tall fescue. Bluegrass takes about 48 inches of water a year to thrive, while tall fescue uses about 28 inches of water,” she added.  As for savings in converting landscapes by following xeriscape principles, Bell says “common estimates are a water usage savings of 50 to 70 percent.”

Free classes in Boise March 6, 13, 20, 29

This year Bell will teach water-wise classes for her 23rd year during the 2014 Water Efficient Landscaping Series scheduled March 6, 13 and 20 from 6 to 8 pm at the Boise Public Library, 715 S. Capitol Blvd. The final class (a native plants tour) March 29 from 1 to 3 pm will meet at the Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 Old Penitentiary Road.

Bell lectures on “Soils and Roots: The Universe Underfoot” on March 6, and “Designing a Xeriscape” on March 20.  On March 13, Catherine Chertudi, Environmental Programs Manager at Boise Public Works, speaks on “Maintaining a Successful Low Water Landscape.” To enroll, email sbell@uidaho.edu.

MORE HELP: UI Extension Publications and xeriscape examples

If you miss their talks, look for these additional University of Idaho Extension publications (you can download most of them for free) or stroll through Ada County Extension Office xeriscape demonstration gardens designed by Bell at 5880 Glenwood Street in Boise for ideas and advice. There, especially watch for less thirsty alternatives to Kentucky Bluegrass for your lawns. Planted along both ends of the building are lawns using turf-type tall fescues, which use about half the water of Kentucky Bluegrass.

For other help:

BUL 884, Trees for Southwestern Idaho Landscapes: Selection and Irrigation, 8 pages, 2013, at http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edComm/detail.asp?IDnum=1740&category1=Recent&category2=NULL

CIS 1157, Watering Home Lawns: How Much And How Often, 7 pages,  2009, at

BUL 0862, Landscaping with Native Plants (part of short-season high-altitude series), 24 pages, 2009, at http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edComm/pdf/BUL/BUL0862.pdf

CIS 1093, Watering Home Lawns and Landscapes, 7 pages, 2003, download or order at http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edComm/detail.asp?IDnum=1217&category1=Gardening&category2=Lawns

CIS 990, Water Conservation in the Landscape, 4 pages, 1993, at http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edComm/detail.asp?IDnum=696&category1=Search&category2=NULL

Search the UI Extension publications site at http://www.cals.uidaho.edu/edComm/catalog.asp for additional tips on lawns and other landscape needs.

Contact Susan Bell at sbell@uidaho.edu.

 garden 1garden 2garden 3

Xeric gardens can provide vivid colors all summer at a fraction of the water requirements.  These examples are the photos and work of Susan Bell, UI Extension horticulturist in Ada County.