Yard and Garden Planning with Conservation in Mind

By Susan Hargens, Member Services Manager

Although it doesn't feel like it at this time, spring is just another couple of months away.  Temperatures will warm up, snow and ice will melt, green shoots will come out of the ground and trees will bud.  Gardening catalogs are already coming in the mail to tempt the gardener into buying plants and seeds for their gardens and lawns.

Now is a good time to make your plans for your yard and garden.  Maybe you could incorporate some native South Dakota plants into an area to decorate your yard.  These plants have adapted to the extreme weather in South Dakota and require little care and water.  Natural Resources Conservation Service has great information on their website -  Visitors are able to download a booklet with South Dakota plant information entitled "Living Landscapes in South Dakota: A Guide to Native Plantscaping".  It covers soils, seedbed preparations, water conservation, species of plants, etc.

Another interesting feature to add to your yard would be a hardy groundcover on an area that is hard to mow or maintain.  Shade trees are also great additions to your yard.  Both groundcover and shade trees help to keep your yard cool and retain moisture.

Using a rain barrel to catch rainwater and drip irrigation or soaker hoses help to minimize your water needs.  Also use of a mulch helps to hold in moisture in the garden or around trees.  Mulch can consist of grass cuttings from lawns that haven't been treated to control weeds, newspapers, chipped wood and other sun-blocking materials that are biodegradable.  Watering early on a still day until a deep soak on the roots of the plants has been completed is the most efficient way to water your lawn or garden.

Always plant vegetation that is hardy for the zone that you live in.  A large portion of South Dakota is in Zone 4, but it is a good idea to check with your local extension office for more information.

Gardening is a great pastime, but after experiencing the drought conditions that are often common in South Dakota, it is best to plant species of plants that can survive hot, dry conditions.  This will save a lot of money in the long haul - less water use, less replanting, etc.  Have a great spring and Happy Planting!

Old Conservation Idea Still In Vogue

by Susan Hargens, Member Services Manager

Water barrel

While searching the Internet recently, I came across an interesting item that brought back some old memories for me. I thought back to the days when I would visit my grandparents and we would play in the yard. At the corner of the house, under the waterspout stood the rain barrel. The thought of that barrel took me back to a time when water was hauled to the house and water quality was anything but exceptional.

The news item that triggered all this reminiscing had to do with a program called the "Green Barrel", in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The city offers Vancouver residents a chance to purchase a 75-gallon plastic rain barrel for the subsidized price of $75.00 per household (which is one-half the regular price). Water used for lawn and garden purposes in Vancouver makes up roughly 40 percent of the summer's household water usage. With the use of the rain barrels, the city estimates that each barrel could save approximately 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months.

Now, this barrel isn't like the one my grandparents owned. It has an inlet that directs water to a small opening, and an outlet that can work with a watering can or hose. The barrel also has a childproof lid. It's a bit different from the old barrel, with a screen or lid weighted down by a rock or brick that my grandparents used.

My grandmother used that water for her houseplants, and I remember so well how my aunts used to use the water to wash their hair - they claimed it made their hair shiny and soft.

I can see that there would still be benefits to this tried-and-true method of conservation today. In addition to reducing water usage, using the barrels in town would cut down the burden placed on the storm sewer system. You could water outdoor plants and save on your water bill using water straight from nature.

Be Wise and Winterize!

by Susan Hargens, Member Services Manager

Winter cabin

It won't be long before Ol' Man Winter will be blowing cold winds our way. South Dakota can be a challenge during the winter with its severe cold, heavy snowfall, and strong winds. Prepare before cold weather sets in to protect your home from the damages associated with extremely cold temperatures.

A pipe freezing and breaking can be very costly and messy. Know where your shut-off valve is located so you can turn off the water in the event of an emergency.

Disconnect and drain all garden hoses from all outside faucets. Look inside your meter pit to ensure that the insulating pillow is in place. Replace the iron lid and cover the pit with straw or some other form of insulation. Mark the pit by flagging it to avoid snowplow damage.

Some areas in your home can be drafty and need to be sealed with caulk or similar material, especially if pipes are located there. Frozen pipes can cause much water damage to property, along with creating a hefty water bill. Good places to investigate for drafts are around electrical wiring, dryer vents, pipes, etc.

When pipes are in a cold area, use heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables to protect them from freezing. Make sure the product being used has been approved by an independent testing organization such as Underwriter's Laboratories, Inc. Always use any product for its intended use only.

Many other products are available for winterizing your home. A visit to your local extension office or the local hardware store can provide ideas for saving on heating costs and protecting homes from cold-weather damage.

Preparing ahead of time gives us more time to enjoy favorite wintertime activities, whether it's participating in winter sports or sitting by the fire drinking hot chocolate. It's always wise to winterize. Enjoy your winter!

Getting in the Conservation Habit

by Susan Hargens, Member Services Manager

Susan Hargens

Considering last year's drought conditions and the possibility of being faced with another dry year, now is the time to set in motion a plan of action for conserving water.

Drier conditions cause an increased usage of water, resulting in a higher demand on water systems around the country. We are currently not adversely affected since we're not operating at full capacity. But down the road, when all customers are on-line, we could experience problems if more water is used than contracted for.

So now is the time to begin developing good habits that promote conservation of our water supply. These are a few suggestions to start out with:

Lawn Watering
Water lawns early in the morning. If you water in the evening, you cut down on evaporation, but increase the chances of molds, which like cool, damp conditions. Ideal watering times occur between 5 and 7 a.m. The water has time to sink in before sunrise. Watering after the sun is overhead can cause scalding of plant leaves, with the water evaporating long before it reaches optimum soil depth.

A wonderful way to cut down on the number of times you need to water is through mulching gardens and flowerbeds. A number of good mulching mediums exist, like black plastic, grass cuttings, wood chips, etc. Mulching holds in the moisture and reduces evaporation. It is a very useful tool for gardeners.

Plant Selections
When planning what to plant in your yard, select plants indigenous to your area. Find out this information through your local extension agent or at your local greenhouse. By planting plant species common to a particular location, you ensure that they're hardy enough to withstand South Dakota drought conditions.

Cleaning driveways
Instead of using the hose to clean off concrete or asphalt driveways, use a broom and sweep off the dirt and rocks. Recycle water by digging a trench beside the driveway and filling it with gravel. Water can then run into it and soak into the surrounding soil.

These are just a few examples of ways you can conserve water. You can check out many other sources for great water conservation ideas on the Internet or at your local extension agent.

Some great water conservation sites: