Abnormally dry conditions – and, in some cases, severe droughts – are affecting a large part of the country, making smart water usage critical for everyone from farmers to homeowners. But, even if your region isn’t parched, try to conserve water where you can. You never know, water usage restrictions could go into effect for your community, too.
Your garden is a good place to start. Everything from how you plant your garden to how you care for it can impact how much water you use. So, use these tips and guidelines from various university extensions to help get the most out of your garden – and the water you use for it.
Be Choosy About Where You Plant
Don’t just think about what you’re planting but where you’re planting it, too. Become familiar with your garden’s “microclimates.” Even the same backyard can have areas that receive vastly different amounts of sun, shade, rain, etc. Choose plants and vegetables that thrive in the conditions of each microclimate. And, plant in a flat area – slopes encourage wasteful water run-off.
Consider Your Soil’s Attributes
Do you have any idea what your soil is like? It’s important to know, because clay soils retain moisture much longer than sandy soils. If your soil doesn’t retain water very well, you might need to add more organic matter to the garden at the beginning of the season or after harvest.
Plants that have similar water needs should be in the same section of your garden so each will receive just the right amount of moisture – no more, no less. And, plant in blocks, rather than rows. This will create shade for roots and reduce evaporation.
Mulch With Abandon
A thick layer of mulch will insulate your soil and significantly reduce evaporation, meaning you can use less water. Mulch also can curb weed growth, which is another way to conserve water (weeds steal it from your other plants). You can use organic mulches, such as bark products and manure, or even inorganic mulches like plastic sheeting. Be sure to water before laying down your mulch, and, if you’re using plastic, put a soaker hose or other irrigation item underneath.
The average garden needs about 1 inch of water a week. If you’re lucky, yours will receive all the water it needs from rainfall – so use a rain gauge (or even a tuna can!) to measure just how much it is getting. If your garden needs additional moisture, you can still keep your plants healthy without wasting water. Here’s how:
- Manually check the soil. If you can feel moisture just below the surface, you probably don’t need to water.
- Water in the morning or mid-day to ensure leaves dry off more quickly (this helps to avoid disease). Choosing morning hours also limits water loss from evaporation.
- If you’re using unattended sprinklers, don’t just go by how long you run them – use rain gauges to determine just how much water is reaching each area of your garden. Sprinklers don’t always distribute water evenly.
- Soaker hoses and inexpensive drip systems are usually much better watering options than sprinklers. These irrigation tools reduce the amount of water needed because they are on the ground near the root zone.
- Remember, the plant’s life cycle is important to consider when you’re watering. Recent transplants need frequent but light watering; however, at the time of flowering and fruit formation, steady watering may be required.
Growing a garden (and reaping its bounty) can give you great enjoyment, along with a sense of pride. Doing it while conserving one of our most vital natural resources is an even greater accomplishment.
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