At this time of year, almost all of us are thinking about saving water on our lawn and garden. Here are a few ideas that will help make that possible.
Tip #1: Learn to water correctly. The secret to good watering is “slow and deep”. Water too quickly, and the water simply collects into pools and runoff, which either runs into the storm system or evaporates into the air. Water too shallowly, and you’re encouraging your plants to build up shallow root systems, which will seek water from the surface, where it’s less likely to be found. By watering less frequently, and by soaking the earth, you can encourage your plants to develop deep root structures that can draw moisture from the cool, damp earth. Bear in mind, too, that you only need to water the roots of your plants, so keep that water flow close to the ground.
Tip #2: Prep your soil. Aerate your plants frequently. This allows the water to seep deep into the ground, where it can do the most good. Aeration doesn’t have to be an elaborate process (although you can rent or borrow tools made especially for aerating) – it can be as simple as poking a stick deep into the ground next to your prize roses or tomato plants just before a big rain.
Mulching is also good for water conservation, and can be one of the most effective things you can do to save water. By keeping the sun from shining directly on the soil, you keep the soil cool and reduce evaporation. Mulching also has a lot of additional benefits to your garden, such as preventing weed growth, discouraging garden pests, and proving additional nutrients for the soil.
If you have a patio garden with plants in containers, try adding a top layer of gravel to the soil. It will protect the soil from evaporation, as well as shielding the roots from the sun.
Tip #3: Only water when you need to. The easiest way to tell if your lawn really needs watering is to walk across it. If it springs back up, it’s doing fine all on its own. If you leave footprints, it’s time to water. Try setting the blades on your lawn mower a little higher, too. A longer blade of grass won’t need watering as frequently.
Tip #4: Choose your plants wisely. By choosing water-thrifty plants to begin with, you’ve already won half the battle. Good choices for annuals are such plants as cleome, portulaca (moss rose), cosmos, and scarlet flax. Good perennials are black-eyed susans, blue flax, butterfly weed, candytuft, daffodils, daylilies, lavender, and sedum. Among the ornamental grasses, fountain grass and Japanese silver grasses are excellent choices.
Tip #5: Prioritize. When water becomes scarce, plan which plants you will water most. Your first priority should be new trees, shrubs, and perennials – those planted within the last 12 months. They are particularly vulnerable during their first year, and if you lose them, you could be losing a substantial financial investment. Second, take care of your vegetables. If they die, you’ll not only lose the plants, but you’ll lose the crop you were hoping to harvest. (Remember? That’s why you planted them in the first place.) Next, take care of your flowering annuals. Leave lawn care for last – if it’s underwatered, it will most likely just go dormant, and revive later when the rain comes.
Tip # 6: Learn all you can about sprinklers. Most sprinklers throw out a fine, high spray of water – perfect for running through, but the worst possible thing for your lawn. You want a sprinkler that sends out fairly large drops, and as close to the ground as possible. If you have a sprinkler system, set it for half of the usual time, wait half an hour, and then run it again. This allows the water to seep into the ground, instead of just running off. The best time for watering is at sunrise and sunset – watering during the heat of the day just leads to increased evaporation, and watering overnight is likely to lead to plant disease and fungal growth.
Even better than a traditional sprinkler is a soaker hose – one of those long, flat hoses with holes pierced through them. They can save up to 70% of water, as compared to a traditional sprinkler. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can install a drip irrigation center that you’ve either purchased or designed and built yourself.
Tip #7: Recycle all you can. The most obvious source for recycled water is rain water that you’ve collected, whether in a large underground tank, or in an old-fashioned rain barrel. You’ll need to exercise a bit of judgment when it comes to using rainwater though. Consider carefully where it has come from. If you’re collecting rainwater from the roof through an eave system, bear in mind that it’s likely passed over roofing materials, bird excrement, and other select items. (Very old homes may even have lead in their gutters and eaves.) This may not be exactly what you’d choose to water vegetables intended for human consumption. (It’s probably fine for your flowers and shrubs however.)
You probably have oodles of “grey water” around your home that’s just going to waste. One easy method of collecting water is to simply bring a bucket into the shower with you. (Try to avoid getting soap into it, however.) You can also keep a large pot next to the sink for collecting the run-off every time you rinse a glass, fill an ice cube tray, or wait for the water to get cold (or hot). Those dehumidifiers you’re running in the basement probably collect a lot of water every day – why not just dump them on your garden or lawn? Your air conditioning unit is probably creating a lot of condensation on the outside of your home that you can put to better use than mere evaporation.
These are just a few ideas of how to save water on your lawn and garden. Once you put your mind to it, you’ll probably be able to think of many more.
Sources: The Frugal Gardener: How to Have More Garden for Less Money by Catrina Tudor Erler, www.finegardening.com, www.thisoldhouse.com.