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Water Conservation with Urban Landscape Plants

B. W. Hipp, C. Giordano, B. Simpson

Water shortages are a common problem in much of the southwest. Increasing urbanization and increasing population places greater demands on dwindling water supplies. Over half of the water used in urban areas of the southwest is used in the irrigation of landscapes. To help cope with increased urban water demands and low water supplies, research was conducted from March 1981 to July 1983 at The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station at Dallas to gain information relative to consumptive water use by native and non-native landscape plants.

Twenty weighing lysimeters were constructed and installed and plants established in the lysimeters and adjacent areas. The lysimeters were made from 0.6 X 0.9 m undisturbed cores of Austin silty clay soil. Plants used in the lysimeter study were buffalograss, St. Augustine grass, cenizo, boxwood and Texas barberry. All plants are native to Texas except boxwood and St. Augustine grass. Four lysimeters were planted to each plant type. This allowed two moisture levels and two replications of each plant type.

There was no difference in water use by St. Augustine grass and buffalo grass during the year of establishment. Daily water use ranged from 0.49 to 0.08 cm per day but was generally 50% class A pan evaporation. St. Augustine grass used 0.03 cm/day more water than buffalo grass during 1982. -Irrigation treatments used in 1982 did not influence water use by either grass type but buffalo grass retained higher quality under dry treatment (irrigated at 0.40 bar moisture tension) than St. Augustine grass. Water use from May to July 1983 was highest (of all treatments) by St. Augustine grass when irrigated at 0.25 bar soil moisture tension at 76 cm depth and lowest (of all treatments) by buffalograss when irrigated at 0.75 bar soil moisture tension at 76 cm depth.

Application of 50% class A pan evaporation each week appears to be an acceptable guideline for irrigation of either turfgrass but research should be conducted over a longer time period to obtain more specific guidelines for each grass species.

Water use by shrubs in lysimeters was variable and not influenced by plant type during the period of establishment (Fall 1981). During 1982 water use was influenced more by plant size than by specie or water level. Cenizo had much faster growth rate than the other shrubs in the study.

Water use by container grown plants indicated that cenizo had higher water use efficiency than boxwood or Indian Hawthorn. Water use was determined for several native shrubs and of the ones compared, Texas barberry appeared to have the most promise for use in water conserving landscapes.

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