Tuesday, August 29, 2017

How to Maintain a Water-Friendly Garden

To water one square foot of lawn to the depth on one inch takes a little over half a gallon. Multiply that by the square footage of your lawn, and you may discover that you are using thousands of gallons of fresh, potable water every summer.

There’s a better way. It’s called xeriscaping—derived from the Greek word “xeros”, meaning hard. But there’s nothing difficult about xeriscaping, the best technique for ensuring an attractive lawn and garden with minimal water usage. This environmentally-friendly way to landscape starts with selecting plants that thrive under harsher conditions and, once established, require no additional water.

Choose Native Virginia and Drought-Tolerant Plants

First, go native. Plants that were here long before suburbs and back yards have adapted to the Central Virginia climate of punishing summers interspersed with intense storms. In fact, once established, many are perfectly happy without watering. Check out publications of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Virginia Native Plant Society for possible candidates.

Second, choose drought tolerant plants that have adapted to tough conditions and soils that do not hold water. Don’t limit yourself to the yucky yucca, albeit a Virginia native. Many attractive and bee- and butterfly-friendly shrubs, such as Virginia Sweetspire (also a native), Cotoneaster, and Lantana are surprisingly hardy. Hawthorns, Shagbark Hickories, and Crape Myrtles are reliable year in, year out. Ice plants and Candytuft, VInca, and Bugleweed spread nicely and take the heat like champs.

Group Plants According to Watering Needs

Another trick is to mass plants according to how much water they need so that you don’t have to water the whole garden just to quench the thirst of the few that require regular watering. And, if you simply can’t do without a lawn, seed with drought-tolerant turf that will grow in our hard clay. Once established, centipede, bahia, Bermuda, and zoysia grasses do very well with minimal water. During droughts, they become dormant but, when it rains, they quickly turn green again.

Minimize Evaporation with Layered Mulch

When all is said and done, the easiest way to conserve water is to minimize evaporation. That means mulch and more mulch. Start by spreading newspapers or paper grocery bags on the areas between and around plants that you want to cover. (Worms thrive on this paper layer, and their “poop” provides an extra nutrient boost to your plants.) Cover the paper layer with a thick—minimum 3 inches—layer of wood chips or dried grass clippings. You’ll save a lot of weeding time; your garden will benefit from better soil next year; and you’re saving water, the planet’s most important (and threatened) resource.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Better Know a Reservoir: Sugar Hollow

Sugar Hollow Reservoir
Photo credit: Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
Guess who’s turning seventy this year! Sugar Hollow Reservoir, built in 1947, draws from the pristine mountain waters of Shenandoah National Park in the northwest portion of Albemarle County. From Sugar Hollow, water flows through a 13-mile pipeline to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir and on to the Observatory Water Treatment Plant providing water to the University community as well as ACSA customers near and west of the US Rt. 250 Bypass.

When is a lake actually a reservoir? Reservoirs are man-made lakes created by building a dam. They store water that is later treated for domestic use.

Water spilling over the dam flows into the Moormans River which is a tributary to the South Fork Rivanna River. These three interconnected reservoirs act as one system to adequately provide the drinking water for our urban area now and in the future.

Sugar Hollow Reservoir is stocked with rainbow and brook trout as part of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ “put-n-take” trout. 

Every year, from October to June, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stocks over 1.2 million catchable-size trout across the Commonwealth. Sugar Hollow’s cold, clean, and pure waters are great spawning grounds for this popular and delicious fish which can grow to as much as 16 inches long and 40 pounds in weight. Also lurking beneath the rocks and crevices of the reservoir are the prized Brook Trout which has provided the grist for many a “fish story”.

Sugar Hollow Reservoir Fast Facts
Useable volume:
324 million gallons
Surface area:
47 acres
Watershed area:
18 square miles

Want to learn more about local reservoirs? Read the Reservoir Water Quality and Management Study: A First Look from Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority.

Photo credit: Andrew Shurtleff