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Date: June 24, 2003

Even without drought, water care needed

(RICHMOND, VA) - Virginia is making up for lost time or, really, lost water. For the past four years, homeowners, nursery operations and farmers have been burnt by summer sun and lack of rain, but that is not the case now.

A recent July would have meant concern over conserving water. Instead of quantity concerns, now is a time when water quality - especially downstream - should be considered.

Wetter lawns mean more frequent mowing, so get in the habit of cutting grass high since you will be doing it often. Weeds are more likely to invade closely cut lawns: remove only one-third of the blade when mowing. Cool season grasses should stand between 2 to 3 inches.

Experts will agree that in these rainy conditions you should not fertilize. Plants can not use the nutrients before they would get washed away with the next rainfall, and fall fertilization is best for cool-season grasses in Virginia.

There are other considerations with plentiful rain. Slow drainage areas, wet spots and soil erosion may result. Solutions depend on whether the drainage problem is surface or subsurface, and range from diverting runoff to swales to French drains to underground pipes to good long-term soil management.

To combat soil erosion, do not leave soil bare. Use groundcovers and even shrubs and trees since well-developed root systems hold soil in place. Mulching around trees and shrubs in a two-to-three-inch layer greatly improves erosion and runoff control, as well protects soil from the direct impact of raindrops.

More rain equals more runoff - both volume and velocity. Runoff from your yard carries eroded soil and chemicals to the nearest stream, lake or river, causing pollution problems.

Divert rain away from paved surfaces so it can settle out instead of running off your property. Measures like swales and berms help, as does improving soil structure.

There are benefits associated with all the rain. For those who have newly planted trees, flowers, shrubs and lawns that need frequent, consistent irrigation, their landscape will become established without an increased water bill.

For a month-by-month guide to an environmentally sound lawn and garden or a lawn fertilization brochure, contact the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation at 1-877-42WATER. Or call your local Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners for water-wise landscaping techniques and garden layout tips. Add hardy plants to your landscape - request regional (mountain, Piedmont and coastal) native plant lists from DCR or download them from Also contact the Virginia Native Plant Society at (540) 837-1600.


editors' note: August - improving soil

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