Save Water Without Compromising Plant Health
Less than three percent of the earth’s water is fresh, and out of that about one percent is accessible. The increase in world population, pollution, droughts resulting from global climate change, and other meteorological factors have put an enormous strain on this resource. This has led to developments such as restrictions on water use in many communities in North America and mass migrations in other parts of the world.
While governments and institutions need to look into large-scale conservation measures, gardeners who want to do their small part can make use of the following water-saving ideas.
Use a Rain Gauge
Most gardens only need about one inch of water a week to thrive. A rain gauge can be bought or made and used to determine if enough rain has fallen to make watering unnecessary.
Rainwater that collects in gutters can be diverted through a downspout and used safely in the garden. If water is collected and used wisely, a household can save up to 1300 gallons each year. Rain barrels can be bought or made using a 55-gallon barrel and spigots, and should be protected with a screen to reduce clogging by leaves and keep out mosquitoes.
Choose Plants that Require Less Water
If planning a new garden or adding to an existing one, consider plant varieties that are drought resistant or grow well in the region. Suggestions for a particular area can be found on the Internet or by asking someone at a nursery or university extension service. Follow the plant’s requirements for amount of sunlight, and group plants with the same water needs together to reduce the chances of over- or under-watering them.
Consider the Time of Day and Season
The best time to water the garden is in the morning. Because the sun is at its strongest between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, more evaporation will occur during that period before the water soaks into the soil and reaches a plant’s root system.
Gardeners who need to rely on an automatic sprinkler should look into using a system with a “water budget allotment” feature, and set it in accordance to their geographical area’s watering index. This index, which is calculated by estimating how much water is lost through evaporation and transpiration by plants, is often at its highest (100%) during the hottest months of summer. During other times of the year, less water is needed and the sprinkler setting can be adjusted accordingly. Watering index information for many regions can be found online or through the system’s manufacturer.
Send Water to Where it is Needed Most
Direct the hose or watering can at the base of the plant so water can be absorbed by the roots, where it is needed most. Plants can also benefit from the frequent, low-volume application of water that a drip irrigation system can provide. Water is sent through tubing and released through emitters placed strategically over or near a plant's roots. Drip irrigation is more water-efficient than sprinkler systems that send water to other areas where it evaporates or in some cases, contributes to erosion or other damage.
Mulch to Retain Moisture
Mulching the garden with leaves, wood chips, straw, or other materials can reduce water loss due to evaporation and runoff. When applying a layer of mulch, make sure to leave an area around the base of the plant uncovered because direct contact with the mulch can adversely affect the plant’s root system.
By incorporating these water-saving ideas into their practices, gardeners can not only feel that they are doing their small part to reduce consumption, but save on their water bills as well.