It’s that time of the year when local news reporters can be seen in the streets frying eggs and bacon on the roofs of cars. By July 2011 the states of Texas and New Mexico had suffered through the driest six month-period on record. Other states are suffering too.
And just when you need to stretch every penny, your water bills keep going up! In the summer, half of all household water use is for the garden and lawn. Then the inevitable water restrictions set in. But you love your garden – you’re not going to pave it over. So here are some tips for prudent and waterwise gardening to lower your bills and keep your garden healthy and gorgeous all year long.
1. Make much of mulch. Adding a layer of mulch around your plants helps prevent water evaporation and keeps away those nasty weeds that fight your plants for precious water. Good organic mulches (like chopped leaves, straw, compost, wood chips, grass clippings or shredded newspapers) can cut the need for water by as much as 50%. Check with your local community garden, botanic garden and Parks Department to see if they have a mulch giveaway.
2. Timing is everything. If you’re running off to work, make 15 extra minutes for watering. Morning is the best time for plants to absorb water. If you can’t manage mornings, evenings are the next best. (These are also times mosquitoes like to attack you, so wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and an insect-repellent). If you can only take three minutes– water your vegetables. They need daily watering in the summer to survive. Other plants can be encouraged to develop deeper roots down to where the soil is damper by less frequent but slower and deeper watering.
3. The grass really is greener over the fence – three states over. Lawns are the most water-needy forms of landscaping. Especially if you live in a dry area, you might consider planting a low-maintenance ground cover like pachysandra.
4. Choose wisely. Okay, that plant is pretty, but is it a water-hog? When you are planning your garden, think about the many attractive plants that can get back on less water, such as African daisies, geraniums, hollyhocks, euphorbia, dusty miller, wallflowers and zinnias.
5. Location, location. After choosing your plants, group plants with similar water needs together where they won’t compete with each other. If your garden slopes, you can put drought-tolerant plants at the top of the slope and needier ones at the bottom, where they will get the trickle-down effect. If you really really must have one plant that will need a lot of water, put it close to the house or water source so you won’t be tempted to skip that daily watering your special baby will need in a heat wave.
6. Raindrops keep falling–just not enough of them. Rain water is clean–and free. But have you noticed how a dry spell is often followed a violent rain storm that evaporates all too quickly for your parched yard? Take advantage of it by using the power of rain harvesting and attaching a rain barrel to your downspout where you can collect water from your gutter run. Just make sure you collect it clean from the start and protect your gutter with a gutter guard with micro mesh that finely filters rainwater.
7. That soil might need an extreme makeover. Heavy compacted soil traps water and stops it getting to your plants, so aerate it by turning it over gently. Add organic material like compost–this will help avoid evaporation of moisture in the soil.
8. Trees really do deserve a hug. Plant trees to lower the temperature of your air and soil and this will help your soil stay moister. Build basins around trees (and shrubs) to avoid water runoff. You will also be glad of the shade in years to come.
9. Don’t kill with kindness. It is possible to overwater some plants, even in the summer. Do your research and make a schedule.
10. Healthy, wealthy and waterwise – words to live by! Healthy plants need less water. Pruning will help strengthen your plants and make them less dependent on water. And try to make your garden welcoming to all–except pests. Weed regularly and remove weeds and diseased or weak plants altogether–they attract pests. Clogged gutters can attract pests that are harmful to your garden–an enclosed gutter protection system is an effective insect-repellent, mosquitoes just can’t get into the gutter or find pools of water to breed in.