How to Conserve Water for Your Garden

How to Conserve Water for Your Garden

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  1. While many so-called “gardening experts” today like to lay claim to various water conservation methods such as xeriscaping and xerogardening, in reality, water-minimizing methods for gardening and farming have existed for centuries–and probably much, much longer.

    Like the Puebloan natives of the American Southwest who have long utilized the well-known triad method whereby corn, beans, and squash are planted together so as to reduce water requirements by two-thirds, surely the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans made the best use of their water supply as well, implementing a number of water-conserving tactics.

    Thus, no matter where you live or the size of your plot, it is likely you can decrease the amount of water needed — often by as much as 50% — to support a beautiful and thriving garden, while providing a number of other benefits to the landscape.

    Regardless of the particular method employed, the steps and principles to creating a water-conservative garden are the same:

    1. Choose plants appropriate for your geographic area.

    Your first choice for plants — whether fruit-bearing, vegetables, or decorative — should be those indigenous to your area. Realize that if you live in Florida and choose plants that thrive in Minnesota, you are increasing the amount of attention (especially water) those plants will require to survive. If you don’t know which plants fall into this category, contact your local co-op extension or research online. But if your heart is set on exotic plants, plan from the start how you will keep them sufficiently watered–without defeating your over-all conservation plan.

    2. Take ample time to design your garden’s layout.

    To minimize water, plan from the start to group plants with similar light and water requirements together, placing moderate-water-use plants in low-lying drainage areas or in the shade of other plants. Those requiring less water or able to withstand full sun — such as cacti, succulents, or desert-hardy plants — can be placed in less hospitable locations, or used as shade for those needing less light but ample water. Then, if circumstances permit, think in terms of planting a variety of plants with different heights, colors, and textures together to add visual appeal–while keeping water use ever in mind. (There’s no rule against planting fruit-bearing and ornamental plants together if their needs are the same; in fact, it can be beneficial.)  And if you’re planning a vegetable garden, consider the corn/bean/squash combo, or some similar grouping.  Last but not least, design your plot so as to take full advantage of rainfall by constructing rock retention walls, dirt mounds, irrigation ditches, or applying effective soil grading.

    3. Take steps to improve soil quality.

    Knowing your plants’ ideal soil conditions will go a long way here. While not all plants require a rich, textured soil, the better the soil quality, the better it will retain moisture. In any regard, most plants will benefit from the use of compost, which will not only absorb and hold water, but serve to add needed nutrients to the soil while promoting root growth. And if you’re planning a wide variety of plants which may include desert plants (which prefer gravel and sandy soils instead of rich soils), plan to vary the soil composition at key locations throughout your garden.

    4. Utilize mulch whenever possible.

    Mulch keeps plant roots cool and moist, prevents the soil from becoming too compact, minimizes evaporation, and as a bonus, discourages weeds. Commercial organic mulches, bark chips, wood shavings, or grass clippings should be used whenever the variety of plant permits it, generally applied 2 to 4 inches deep. While rocks and gravel can also be considered mulch — as far as cacti and succulents go — they tend to make the surrounding areas hotter, so they should be used thoughtfully.

    5. Whatever method of watering/irrigation you intend to use, be sure it is reliable and easy to sustain.

    Whether you’re planning to hand-water or utilize an automatic sprinkler system, consider a pattern and schedule that will irrigate your plants most efficiently. If you use a sprinkler system, avoid oscillating heads that throw water high into the air or release a fine mist; these only waste water. The most efficient sprinklers are those that release large drops at near ground level. Remember to water deeply but not excessively so as to promote deep root development that will make plants naturally more drought tolerant. Most importantly, never, ever water during the daylight hours. Watering in sunlight not only results in much of the water evaporating, it can “sunburn” delicate leaves and fruits. And last but not least, consider a rain-barrel or some other type of rain catcher. Should you be subject to city water restrictions, drought, or irrigation system breakdown, a few gallons of free rainwater can go a long way.

    6. Schedule regular maintenance.

    All gardens require some degree of periodic care. Wind can expose plant roots, requiring resetting. Removing/pruning of dead leaves and stems promotes blooming and fruit formation, while controlling height and spread. (Most of the dead plant material — unless diseased — can be shredded and used as compost or mulch.) Too much rain can change grading or disturb retention walls. And, of course, weeds need to be removed as quickly as possible since they only serve to compete for water and nutrients. (Note: It’s always wise to walk thorough your garden at least every few days to make certain nothing has negatively impacted your set-up.  And if possible, keep a record of your garden’s progress so you have a reference for next year’s garden planning.)

    Implemented thoughtfully, these six steps can result in a garden that not only inherently requires less water and upkeep, it will produce better fruit and brighter blooms due to moisture and nutrient retention, has a greater chance of surviving drought and inclement weather, and over time, enables you to create a garden beyond what you even thought you could without abusing water use.



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