Few people cherish water as much as gardeners. They know just how vital water is to life, and how easily it can be wasted. Accordingly, avid gardeners have developed a range of techniques for ensuring their gardens are as water-friendly as possible. If your neighbor’s garden is thriving while yours bleaches under the summer sun, it may not mean she’s ignoring local water restriction. It could just mean she’s learned to master these effective water conservation strategies.
Every drop of rainwater that falls on your garden is one drop you don’t have to provide through irrigation, so why not maximize what you get? Many gardeners redirect rain flow through their gutters and downspouts into large rain tanks, where it’s readily available for land use. If your garden’s too small for a large tank, you can capture at least some of the heaven’s bounty by connecting your downspouts to sealed rain barrels (sealed barrels prevent evaporation and mosquito infestations).
Layer on the Mulch
Mulch provides a layer of insulation that regulates soil temperature, hinders weed development, and traps moisture, and is an indispensable weapon in the gardener’s water conserving arsenal. Mulch takes many forms from the organic (grass clippings, bark chips, and crushed walnut shells) to the inorganic (stones, brick chips, and recycled plastic).
Whichever type you choose, the principle is the same. Place a thick layer of wet newspaper over the area to be covered, and top with an inch of mulch. As the paper breaks down it builds up the soil, and water-hungry weeds have difficulty breaking through the mulch layer.
What you plant is as important as how you plant when it comes to water conservation. Hardy, drought resistant plants, shrubs, and ground cover require less water and adapt well to arid climates. Local plants, which are built to thrive in your climate, are often the best choices.
Plant in Blocks, Not Rows
The rows of a traditional vegetable garden may make it easy to access plants, but lend themselves to erosion and evaporation. Instead, plant in blocks, with plants close together. Planting in groups increases shade for soil and roots while lowering evaporation rates and hindering weed growth. Which brings us to another trick . . .
Group Plants with Similar Water Needs
This is the kind of advice that seems obvious once it’s pointed out, but which people often overlook. By planting your water thirsty plants together, you can better control your irrigation, and don’t risk over or under-watering one plant in favor of another.
A drip irrigation system uses pipes, tubes and valves to deliver water directly to the soil or just under the surface. Water is supplied directly to the ground, so evaporation is minimalized. Combined with mulch, a drip irrigation system can reduce a plant bed’s water demands by up to 50 percent.
Reuse Indoor Water
The water you use to steam and boil vegetables is full of nutrients. Instead of pouring it down the sink, let it cool and use it to water plants. Its nutrients make cooking water a great fertilizer. If you have a fish tank, do the same when you clean the tank—used tank water is full of nitrogen, phosphorous and—not to put too fine a point on it—nutritious fish poop.
Showers take a few minutes to warm up. While the water’s reaching a comfortable temperature, add a couple of buckets to the shower to catch water. Even with low-flow shower filters you can catch enough water to at least water potted plants.
Often a little imagination will save you water, and leave your neighbors wondering why your garden’s growing while theirs turns dry and brown. Be a good neighbor—share your secrets!