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Water Saving Tips For Your Garden

Organic gardening gaphic The average American family of four uses 60 gallons of water per day — almost 22,000 gallons per year — just to water the lawn and garden. Experts estimate that up to half of that water goes to waste due to evaporation, wind, improper system design or overwatering. Converting to a water-wise landscape can reduce outdoor water use by as much as 50%.

Enter Xeriscaping (zer-i-skaping), a term coined in 1981 by a group of professionals from the landscape and water industries in Colorado that combines the Greek xeros, meaning dry, and landscape. Essentially, Xeriscaping is a sustainable form of landscaping that conserves water, protects the environment and results in less overall maintenance on the landscape.

The following are 12 easy-to-implement tips that can help you conserve water, lower your water bills and help you watershed.

1. Choose Native And Low-water Plants

Choose plants that will flourish in the regional climate and microclimate, but that don't require a lot of water. That doesn't necessarily mean native plants. You don't have to use natives to be effective. Some native plants require a lot of water. Choose plants based on the soil conditions, environmental factors, slope, space available, etc., not just whether it's native to the area.

2. Increase Organic Matter

Graphic of a bag of compost Healthy soil is the key to healthy plants. Rich, organic soil better absorbs water, encourages deeper roots and decreases water runoff. In most areas of the country, improving the soil means adding organic materials. You can increase the amount of organic matter in your soil by adding compost, aged animal manures, mulches or peat moss. Because most soil life and plant roots are located in the top 6 inches of soil, concentrate on this upper layer. To learn more about making your own compost, see Compost Basics.

3. Reduce Fertilizer Use

Fertilizer, used in both agricultural and urban activities, is a major source of phosphorus and nitrate pollution causing lake deterioation across the State. Smart fertilizer use focuses on good soil management as a long-term process to improve soil quality. Granulated and water soluble forms of fertilizer are nearly 100 percent available in the first year after application. However, organic forms such as animal manures, meals, compost and green manure release about one-third to half of their total nutrients in the first year after application. By using organic forms of fertilizer, you are adding to your soil’s organic matter and reducing the chance that nutrients will leach out, ending up in waterways and natural ecosystems. If you are using commercial fertilizers, move to slow-release fertilizers to reduce the inadvertant leaching of the fertilizer to the groudwater and waterways.

4. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Mulching the garden. Up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if you don’t have mulch as a protective layer on top. Mulch is one of the best moisture holding strategies you can employ. Mulch prevents evaporation from the soil surface, helps suppress water-thieving weeds from growing and many mulches add vital nutrients to the soil at the same time. Avoid fine mulches that tend to clump and become water-repellent. Instead, use a coarser mulch which allows water/rain to move down through to the soil. For more information on the types of mulches and their uses see How To Use Mulch

5. Havest Water

Rainwater isn’t metered, it’s free from restrictions placed on mains water and, most crucially, our plants love it! It makes sense, therefore, to collect some of this natural resource for us in our gardens. For gardeners the best method is, of course, the rain barrel. These can be fitted to intercept a downpipe coming off a roof. A rainwater diverter will do as it says – divert the rain running down the pipe to your rain barrel. But don’t stop at one rain barre. If you have the space link two or more together so that as one reaches capacity the water overflows to begin filling the next. Modern rain barrels don’t have to look utilitarian. There are plenty of eye-catching barrels that are features in their own right.

6. Avoid Excessive Watering

Watering the lawn You want to make sure your gardens are receiving an optimal amount of moisture, but you’re not sure how to avoid overwatering plants? We have all been there before. Every gardener has killed a plant or two with kindness. You know you’re over-watering plants when the leaves start to look limp, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. Yes, plants that don’t get enough water will also turn yellow and fall from the plant, but those leaves usually turn dry and brittle.

There are water meters on the market you can stick in the soil to measure how much moisture it holds. But nothing is cheaper and easier to use than your finger. For potted plants, stick your index finger into the soil down to your first knuckle. If it feels moist, hold off on watering for a few days.
Stop watering your plants on a specific schedule. Instead, lift potted plants and learn how heavy they are when recently watered and when they are dry.
Don’t buy cheap potting soil for potted plants, and avoid cheap topsoil and bagged soil when starting a garden bed at all costs.
Build the foundation of your garden with compost you produced yourself.
Plants that receive water every day never send their roots deeper to look for moisture and nutrients. This creates a weak root system, leading to a feeble plant.

7. Water Garden In The Moring, Pots In The Afternoon

Research has shown that the timing of when you water your garden and pot plants during the day can have a significant effect on plant growth. Plants watered after 12.00 pm and during the afternoon, “significantly outperformed plants grown with early morning irrigation.” So, watering container plants in the afternoon may lead to healthier, stronger growing plants compared to container plants watered early in the morning.

The optimal watering time for the rest of the garden, is early morning before the temperatures begin to rise, winds are lower and there is less evaporation. Morning watering gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day. Avoid evening watering especially on the foliage as night-time temperatures are often inadequate to dry the moisture on the leaves. This can encourage some fungal pathogens to grow.

8. Choose Container Pots Wisely

Choose your plant container carefully. Different materials heat up quickly or lose moisture due to porosity so think about your pot location before making a final decision. For example, metal heats up quickly so raised galvanised garden beds and metal containers will draw moisture out of the soil and these gardens will need more watering. Clay pots such as unglazed terra cotta will lose moisture through their porous surface and the soil will dry out faster than glazed pots. It’s vital to use a quality potting mix that holds moisture.

9. Increase Lawn Mower Cutting Height

Mowing the lawn. Grass mowed at the proper height, and not scalped, develops a deeper root system to better find water and nutrients in the soil. Properly mowed grass can grow and support more roots allowing your lawn to withstand wear and tear, heat, and drought. Taller grass shades the soil keeping it cooler, plus it's softer to walk on and helps cushion falls better than short grass. Most lawns prefer your mower set to one of the highest settings, providing a 3-4 inch cut.

10. Sharpen Lawn Mover Blade

Keep your mower’s blades clean and sharp for clean cuts and better performance. Lawns cut with dull blades lose moisture faster and are more prone to disease.

11. Control Water-Sucking Weeds

Nothing sucks the fun out of gardening quite like weeds. They can be persistent, hard to kill, and may even have thorns or toxic properties. Fighting them is hard work and often discouraging, especially when they come roaring back a few days after they were removed.

Applying water to desirable plants through controlled irrigation
Using mulch to reduce water loss and suppress weed seed germination
Selecting and planting plants adapted to the climate and environment
Using weed barrier fabrics under mulches can further reduce weeds

12. Use Soaker Hoses

Using a soaker hose in the flower garden Maintain a lush garden without the high cost of watering it. Don't use those sprinklers on vegetable or flower gardens because most of that water is lost to evaporation. Your answer is in the form of a soaker hose. These basic hoses have tiny perforations that allow water to seep through and into the ground. Here are several tips for soaker hose success.

A flat layout gives optimal performance in a soaker watering system.
Keep the End Cap On
Fill the Hose Up Entirely
Avoid High Water Pressure
Lay out your design and test before you cover with mulch or dirt to make sure water is reaching everything you want it to water.

Further Information

All About Aphids & Their Control
The Life Cycle of Plants: Fertilization
The Spruce: How to Make Your Own Fertilizer
Pollination and Fertilization