Q. I’ve noticed how beautiful the Wake Forest gardens are, but isn’t all that landscaping water intensive, particularly during the summer when the flowers are in bloom and water is at a premium?

A. Though landscaping, particularly on a large scale like at the university, requires a lot of input, there are many simple ways to minimize the amount of water needed throughout the lifecycle of the gardens. According to David Davis, Manager of Landscaping Services at the University, plans for water use reduction begin in the design phase and extend throughout the life of the plant. From plant selection for particular locations on campus to planting schedules and water wise practices such as “spot watering,” the university’s landscaping department tries to minimize their water use while maximizing the beauty of the grounds.

David Davis provides details below:

At the design phase we simply choose plants that most likely suit the site in regards to available water.” For example a south facing slope would naturally be much drier than level or low ground on the north side of a building. Simply put, choosing the right plant for the site is the first and maybe the most important step in the process.  At installation we amend the soil with organic matter which improves overall soil structure and holds moisture. After planting we add mulch which insulates the soil from drying winds and the sun and helps to conserve moisture.

Whenever possible we try to plant during the dormant season to allow plants to establish a good root system before the summer months therefore requiring less watering the first season. However sometimes circumstances dictate that we plant during late spring or summer when water needs are high. Much of our new shrub and tree planting is hand watered from a spigot or a mobile water tank. Although time consuming hand watering or spot watering is very water wise as only the plants that need water receive water rather that the entire surrounding landscape.

We have recently installed several new irrigation controllers which are controlled by a PC. These new smart systems are linked to a “weather station” here on campus which will shut the system off in the event of a significant rain. There are also flow sensors that monitor and shut down the system should a major leak occur. A notification is then noted on the PC that there is a problem allowing us to find and fix problems in a timely manner. Also many of our new irrigation systems have drip irrigation for the shrub beds rather than sprinklers. Drip irrigation is very efficient putting water only where it is needed.

Caitlin Brooks, Outreach and Communications Intern