Make a Little Water go a Long Way

In this day when conservation of water is so important, you need to minimize use of water in your garden more than ever. A great garden doesn’t have to jack up your water bill. When you water your garden lavishly, your checking account isn’t the only thing going down the drain. Increasingly, landscapes are putting a burden on community water supplies, especially in the West. Even in the South and the East Coast, water rationing is becoming increasingly common. But scrimping on water doesn’t have to mean scrimping on your landscaping. It’s all a matter of making a little water go a long way.

Gardening Tips go Long Way

These tips, as they pertain to watering your garden, will likely have long-lasting results. 1) Group plants according to water need. Highly drought-tolerant plants can go in one spot; moderate-water plants in another. High-water use plants go in another — preferably close to the house so they’re easier to get to with a hose; 2) Go lightly on the annuals, heavier on perennials, and still heavier on shrubs. The larger the root system, usually, the less dependent the plant is on your babying it with the hose; 3) Minimize lawn. Just as an SUV is a gas-guzzler, turf is a water guzzler, requiring at least an inch of water every week. Use it as an accessory in your garden, something to set off beds and borders filled with low-maintenance small trees and shrubs and perennials — not as the focal point; 4) Mulch lavishly. Make sure annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs all have 1 to 3 inches of mulch such as wood chips or pine needles. It keeps the soil cooler and conserves moisture; and 5) Know your soil and plant accordingly. In the most of the Midwest, East Coast, and much of the South, improving soil with ample amounts of compost is the best way to go. Compost loosens clay soils and makes sandy soils more fertile and moist. Spread 6 inches of compost onto the top of the soil before digging a new bed. Otherwise, apply 1 to 2 inches of compost to the top of the soil in beds, borders, and vegetable gardens every year. It’s the best investment you can make. In the West, however, “improve” soil with caution. Many drought-tolerant plants actually thrive in poor, lean, rocky soils and making the soil too rich or moisture-retentive can create disease and pest problems. They might even just plain rot.

 A Word to the Wise About Watering

Gardens in the eastern two-thirds of the country need about an inch of water a week. Gardens in the West may need that much, though a well-planted garden can get by on a half inch or so a week. Really water-savvy gardens need no additional water, other than some extra water for first-year plants. A rain gauge is a good investment so you will never water too much or too little.

When watering the garden with a sprinkler, set out a pan in the sprinkler’s path. When the pan has collected one inch of water, you know you’ve applied that much. Water in the early morning — preferably right before sunrise. Evaporation will be minimal but plant leaves will have time to dry quickly and thoroughly before fungal diseases set in. If getting up at 5 a.m. to water the garden sounds a wee bit daunting, invest in a good timer to attach to the hydrant so it will start the sprinkler automatically. Avoid watering leaves. Yes, a plant benefits from an occasional shower to rinse off dust and insects, but generally, plants far prefer the water be delivered right at the roots. Watering the leaves encourages fungal diseases. Water deeply and well rather than shallow and often. Giving plants — whether they’re lawns or perennials or shrubs — little sips of water now and then does little good. It encourages shallow root development and the soil dries out again more quickly than if you had given it one good deep soak. After a good watering, water should work its way down at least several inches into the soil. Check by taking a trowel and digging down a bit to see if the water has penetrated well. In heavy clay soils, that might mean giving a plant a good soak until the water starts to puddle, then letting it sink in for a couple of hours and watering a second or even third time.



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