Margaret Lauterbach

Margaret Lauterbach: Water in the West deserves attention

We have water for gardening now, but may not have it in the future. Conservation of water is a way of life for those of us raised in the interior (non-coastal) regions of the American West. Water has always been a precious necessity to us.

I’ve lost a lot of plants that love more water than we’re willing to provide, and as Idaho natives and long-term residents know, rains are scarce during the growing season. Those of us on metered water know it’s very expensive, so we save money and the resource by conserving.

Of course hardscaping, such as concrete or stone patios, saves on water, but it may also raise the heat level of your dwelling. I think greenery placed from home exterior out to 15 feet for a one-story house sufficiently moderates heat. Thirty feet of green for two stories.

The best ways of conserving while maintaining a pleasant lifestyle is to use plants that require little water or to use water systems that yield only enough water for a plant’s needs.

Lawns are water hogs, so if you only run a lawn sprinkler system when the lawn needs water (that is, shows footprints that don’t spring up quickly) instead of watering by timer, you’ll use less water than a timer would dispense. Passersby cringe when they see lawn sprinklers going at full force during a rare rain.

If you run sprinklers early in the morning, that will reduce evaporation and give foliage a day’s heat to dry out before temperatures cool in evening. Also, sprinklers that shoot water high into the air are losing a lot to evaporation.

Soaker hoses and drip systems conserve water. Drip systems, delivering water only to targeted plants, are the most efficient, but it takes some study on the gardener’s part to install them correctly. Once installed, though, you’ll rest assured that you’re not watering weeds, leaching nutrients from your soil or eroding your soil. Drip systems in the vegetable garden usually emit water every 10 inches or so, not watering a row of seeds planted every 2 inches, so a soaker hose is a better option there.

Our water contains some grit, so a filter component can save you grief. Years ago in my garden a grain of sand plugged a pressure modifier (disk with a central hole, like a token), killing a squash plant by depriving it of water. A filter could have prevented that.

In our area, drip equipment and in some cases, expert advice, is available from D & B Supply, Grover’s Pay and Pack, Zamzows and some of the building supply stores. If you’ve started installing a system, take some components with you to shop for fittings, because it seems like nothing fits everything.

Big box stores may have drip components in plumbing section rather than garden section.

Mail order sources include Dripworks ( ), Gardeners supply ( and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply ( Dripworks website contains several instructional videos for setting up and maintaining a drip system. There are also several “how-to” videos on You Tube. Search for .

This is the crucial time of year to keep a close eye on your fruit trees. Wind and water create fertile ground for disease, especially with those that still have blossoms opening.

Fire blight is a hazard in this valley. If your trees had fire blight last year, they’re more prone to infection this year. Prevention of infection is most effective. Use bactericide, copper spray such as Bordeaux, or biological product (such as Serenade) for control.

Fire blight is usually noticed when shoot tips turn black or brown and droop in a shepherd’s crook shape. It first manifests itself in the blossoms, that quickly turn brown and black, then drop. Frost has the same effect on blossoms, so the shoot tip evidence is more revealing of disease.

Watch for white fuzz on apple, cherry and peach leaves (powdery mildew), peach leaves curling unusually, and purple spots on peach, nectarine and apricot leaves (Coryneum blight).

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.