Water is a precious resource during hot summers.
Summer is here, and along with it often comes a shortage of rainfall in many areas. Conserving water in the garden is actually not as difficult as you might think. With a little attention to timing, and some careful watering, you can have a healthy garden that doesn’t put a strain on the water supply. Consider investing in a few of these inexpensive gadgets from your local garden center to help you in your efforts.
Hose Extension Wand
Hose extension wands are a lifesaver in the garden! They allow you to apply water directly to the soil and roots, rather than wasting it (and damaging your plants) by spraying in the air or on the foliage. They also save both your back and planting beds by letting you water without having to bend over or step in your beds. They apply water very effectively, which means you won’t need to use as much.
Most extension handles come with a water breaker (also known as a soaker nozzle) on the end, but if it doesn’t, you’ll need to add one. A water breaker looks like a small shower head with a lot of little holes. It disperses the water into a gentle soaking shower, rather than the hard, soil-eroding blast of other hose nozzles. This not only protects soil and plants, but it allows you to water more slowly and gently, which increases absorption and reduces runoff.
Soaker hoses are easy to use and very effective at conserving water. They are simply garden hoses that are made out of a porous material and capped on the end. When the water is turned on and pressure builds inside the hose, the water is forced out of the pores in a slow, steady drip that can easily be absorbed by plants.
Lay soaker hoses throughout your garden, loop them around shrubs and trees, or line your vegetable garden beds for an instant water-wise irrigation system. Covering them with mulch makes them invisible and less likely to lose water to evaporation.
If you’re a little more adventurous, try installing a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation targets water directly to a plant’s roots in a slow drip where it can be easily absorbed. Since there’s no runoff or wasted water, it provides maximum efficiency.
You can design a drip irrigation system to fit any garden – the emitters (small nozzles that drip the water) can be installed at intervals to suit your plantings and can be aimed directly where you need them.
No irrigation system is complete without a timer to allow you to apply water at the ideal time of day and for the right length of time, regardless of your schedule. Much water is wasted by busy gardeners who water during the heat of the day (when it’s convenient) or water for way too long (because they forgot the water was on).
Simple, programmable, battery-powered (or windup) timers are available that fit right onto your outdoor faucet. No special equipment is needed, just hook it up, program it, and let it do its thing. Be sure to cancel the timer cycle during periods of rainfall!
Any straight-sided container can be used as a rain gauge.
Whether you purchase a rain gauge or simply use a straight-sided recycled can or container, it’s very important to keep track of the rainfall in your area. If you use a sprinkler, it’s important to keep track of how much you’re watering, too.
Most gardens and lawns need about an inch of water per week, and with a little measuring, you can adjust timers and hand watering to provide exactly what is needed without wasting water.
Rain barrels are wonderful water-catching containers that can be installed directly under your gutter downspouts. By collecting the water that flows from your roof during a rainstorm, you can significantly reduce your water usage.
Most rain barrels have a spout for filling watering cans, and if your landscape slopes adequately you can even attach a hose for gravity-powered watering.
This glass globe is filled with water, which trickles into a potted plant.
There are many options available for slow-release watering systems, particularly for watering containers or small ornamentals. Watering spikes made of glass or clay have a reservoir that’s filled with water which seeps into the soil. They’re great for keeping your plants alive while you’re on vacation.
Slow-release systems that hold several gallons of water are available for larger plants. The donut-shaped bag is placed around the trunk of the plant and filled with water, making them great for newly-planted trees that aren’t easily reachable with a hose.
You can make your own slow-watering system using a plastic drink bottle or jug with a hole punched in the bottom.
Compost and Mulch
Lastly, be sure to set aside part of your gardening budget for the purchase of high-quality compost and mulch. A water-wise garden depends on the amount and quality of organic matter in (and on) your soil, so keeping a nice layer of compost of mulch will create a garden that needs less water.
Check out more water-saving tips at the Irrigation and Watering section of Around the Yard.