June 01, 2018
It is just as important to conserve water OUTSIDE your home as it is INSIDE your home. Lush green lawns, bright colorful flower gardens, bountiful vegetable harvests —these add beauty and enjoyment to your home. But grass and flowers and vegetables require water, and they can sometimes consume massive amounts of this precious natural resource. So how can you water wisely? How can you conserve water in your yard?
First, before you even turn on that garden hose, there are ways to PLAN your garden and PREPARE your yard so that it will need less water:
- DIRT: The right soil will help you make the most of the water you use. Nutrient-rich soils actually HOLD the moisture in the soil, so adding nutrients and organic matter (such as compost and worm castings) to your soil will help the dirt retain the moisture it receives.
- MULCH: Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulching is key to trapping the moisture in the soil. “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. It 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.” The Micro Gardener
- PLANT SELECTION: Some plants need less water than others. “Species with low water needs will save you time and money in the garden. These include:
- Established or slow growing plants;
- Small plants;
- Varieties with small or narrow leaves;
- Grey or silver foliage; or
- Leathery, hairy, curled or fuzzy leaves that typically require less moisture.” The Micro Gardener
Once you’ve planned and prepared your yard to need less water, now you’re ready to water that garden, but water it wisely.
- Don’t water unless it’s needed. This might seem obvious, but it’s a good reminder. So check the weather and check your soil.
—Check the weather. If rain is forecast, you can put away that hose and turn off those sprinklers. “Also, consider your climate, location and the season. Weather factors that impact watering include: cool temperatures, high humidity, the winter season, shade and no wind which all reduce the need for irrigation. Whereas hot, windy summers with low humidity will increase the need for watering.” The Micro Gardener
—Check your soil. Don’t water if your soil doesn’t need it. “To check if you need to water or not, look at the soil about a spade-deep down. If it’s damp, it’s fine; if it’s dry, it’s time to water. If you have clay soil, it might feel damp whether it’s irrigated or not and sandy soil can feel dry, even if it has water in it. If this is the case, watch your plants and when they start to show signs of water stress – when leaves change position or get darker – note how the soil looks and feels. This way you can get more of an idea of what your soil is like when it has too little water.” The Guardian
Another way to check your soil is by using a moisture meter, an inexpensive tool which checks moisture levels in your soil. This moisture meter actually checks moisture, pH levels, and sunlight.
- Never over-water. Over-watering not only wastes a valuable natural resource, but it can actually harm your plants. Over-watering causes plants to grow roots only near the surface, which makes them vulnerable to drought. It makes your plants needy, dependent on that daily watering, rather than encouraging deep-rooted hardy plants. Over-watering also “leaches valuable nutrients from the soil (costing you money to replace them) and causes loss of oxygen in the soil-pore spaces increasing the chance of root rot and other diseases from suffocation.” The Micro Gardener
- Harvest Water. There are many ways to harvest water that might otherwise be lost:
—Collect rainwater. Installing a rain barrel or water tank can utilize water from your roof and gutters and put it to work in your garden.
—Reuse household water. Save your cooking water (from boiling vegetables) and use it in your garden (extra nutrients!). Put a couple of buckets in the shower while your water is heating up, and use this water in the garden. Bath water, fish tank water, any “used” water from your home —let it do double duty in your garden.
- Mow high. “Keeping your grass at the upper recommended limit (about 2 inches for most species) will help shade the soil and prevent excessive evaporation.” Love Your Landscape
- Eliminate Leaks. Check your hoses and faucets for leaks. “According to the EPA, a single 1/32” diameter leak on a hose, emitter or outdoor faucet can waste more than 6,000 gallons of water in a year.” Love Your Landscape
- Water the soil, not the leaves. “Water at the root zone to keep evaporation to a minimum. Keeping water off your plants’ leaves will also help control fungal diseases and prevent sunscald.” Love Your Landscape
All of these methods will help you use water wisely in your lawn and garden, so you can eliminate wasteful practices and enjoy the benefits of a beautiful, healthy landscape.