Friday, July 6, 2012

Ways to Conserve Water in Your Garden

If you're a fan of pollinators, you've probably got a pollinator garden with plenty of flowering nectar sources (and host plants for caterpillars)! During an intense, dry heat wave, all of our planty pals need a little help- not to mention the pollinators and other wildlife, too!

Here are my tips for keeping your plants well watered without being wasteful:

1. Plant Native Plants
Native plants have evolved and adapted to the specific conditions in your area, including how much precipitation your region typically gets. Buying native plants is like having a customized garden designed by nature specifically for you!

Good- Look for plants at nurseries, even the "big box stores," labelled "Native." However, some of these plants are U.S. natives, and may not specifically be native to your area.
Better- Do a little research on plants that are native to your area. (A great place to start: just type in your zip code!) You can find different cultivars based on your wants and needs- for example, dwarf versions of native species for areas where you don't want a tall plant, or a variation in color- such as an orange, red, or white version of a pink cone flower if you already have lots of pink in your garden. (Note that some cultivars aren't as beneficial to pollinators, especially those with double blooms.)
Best- Contact your local Native Plant Society and/or look for native plant sales in your area. You can usually find these sales going on in Spring and Fall, which is also the best time of year to plant. Planting early or late in the year will enable the plant to develop a substantial root system before the heat of summer, or before going dormant in winter. A plant that is more established will require less water and maintenance.

2. Plant More Plants- Have Less Grass
In most cases, a lawn isn't a sustainable landscape, and does nothing for pollinators (unless you allow clover and other small flowers to grow in it). Shrubs and established plants, especially native plants, will require less watering than a lawn.

Good- Have at least a couple areas in your yard reserved for native shrubs and plants. (See:
Better- Devote an entire section of your yard to a native meadow garden (or a shady garden). You won't have to mow or pull weeds- just plant lots of native plants and allow them to spread and self-seed freely.
Best- Take out your entire lawn and create a beautiful garden full of shrubs, perennials, groundcover, and allow for a meadow (or "wild") area as well.

3. Install and Use a Rain Barrel
(I hope we don't need an explanation for this...)

Good- Install a rain barrel and use it to fill up your watering can.
Better- Install a rain barrel and attach a hose to it. Turn on the spigot and move the hose around your yard. Allow the water to slowly trickle out directly onto the base of individual plants for a slow, deep watering.
Best- Install multiple rain barrels so you can easily access all areas of your yard with the water you've collected.

4. Use Gray Water
If you kept the drain of you sink closed at all times, you'd be surprised how much water is going down there! So... Plug it up! You probably don't want to use your soapy water on your plants, but you can collect the water you've used for things like washing fruits and vegetables, boiling eggs or potatoes, etc.

Good- Plug the drain in your sink when washing fruits and vegetables. Use a cup to transfer the water from your sink into your watering can. Also, take the water from pots that you've used to boil eggs or potatoes, or steam vegetables, and pour it on plants outside (after it's cool).
Better- In addition to the above, take your house plants and small potted plants into the shower with you- just try not to get too much soap on them, and give them a good rinse when you're done.
If you use a dehumidifier in your house, use the water it collects to water your plants.
If you have a fish tank, you can dump the water from it onto your plants when you're cleaning the tank. The water contains lots of nutrients that the plants love!
Best- Install a gray water irrigation system at your house. A friend of mine lived in the Caribbean, where it gets quite hot, as you can imagine. Her father planted beautiful flower gardens all around their house and the neighbors insisted he was crazy and that he would never be able to keep up with the watering (they had strict water conservation laws there). He installed a gray water system and everyone was astounded at the beauty of his landscaping!

5. Mulch- and Leave the Leaves
Mulch and leaves help keep water from evaporating. Fallen leaves contain valuable nutrients- don't waste them!

Good- Buy mulch and wood chips and spread them in flower beds to prevent weeds and slow evaporation of water.
Better- Some local recycling facilities collect yard waste and debris from storms to create mulch... and some give it away for free. Call around to see if you can find free mulch in your area!
Best- Let the leaves that fall in Autumn stay in the flower beds. Pile them up around shrubs and plants (but not directly touching the base of the plants) to protect the plants over the winter, and leave them there as a mulch during the summer. Or in spring, you can rake them out and mow over them to shred them, then place them back in your beds. Keeping a thin layer of leaves allows water to reach the plants and keeps it from evaporating.
Here is a GREAT and short (3 minute) video about making your own mulch from leaves!

6. Pull Weeds
When water is scarce, there is hardly enough to go around. Make sure your valuable plants aren't competing with the undesirables!

Good- Even just a little bit of time every day (half an hour) spent pulling weeds can help keep your flower beds clear.
Better- See #5 above- keeping mulch and leaves on your beds will help cut down on the weeds.
Best- When you pull the weeds, add them back into your compost!

7. Use A "Drip Watering" Technique
This can be done in conjunction with other steps above. The idea is to water very slowly and deeply- think quality versus quantity.

Good- Use a soaker hose. You can also use a small sprinkler with your hose turned on a very low setting and move it around to different plants/parts of your yard.
Better- Use a container- this is more precise. I used an empty kitty-litter jug. I pierced 2 small holes (with a corkscrew) about an inch apart, in the bottom of the container. Fill the container up, and set the container at the base of a shrub or newly planted tree. The water drips out slowly, and you know exactly how much water  the plant is getting!
Best- If you're using a container, use water from your rain barrel or gray water. If using a hose, attach the hose to your rain barrel and open the spigot to just a trickle and allow water to slowly drip out and soak a plant's roots. Place the hose near the base of the plant. (From my experience, rain barrels and soaker hoses don't work well together.)

8. Water in the Morning or in the Evening
This keeps the water from evaporating quickly and being wasted.

This last one isn't so much about keeping your plants watered, but,
9. Wildlife is Thirsty, Too!
Have you ever noticed when you've used a watering can or sprinkler to water plants, bees and butterflies will descend upon the freshly watered plant? They're drinking the water left on the leaves, and these little guys are thirsty!

Good- Have a bird bath or other water source in your yard. Fill it with fresh water daily. Add ice on very hot days! Birds aren't the only ones who take advantage of bird baths- I see squirrels and chipmunks drinking from ours all the time!
Better- In addition to a bird bath (or other water source), add a puddling area for the pollinators. This can be a flat place in your garden with a couple of bricks or flat rocks- try to keep them damp. It can be a very shallow dish, like a plate, with some rocks, sticks, wood chips, etc. where butterflies and bees (and other insects) can safely land and have a drink.
Best- A little running water attracts wildlife. Of course, keeping water running or bubbling requires energy. You can find many solar-powered fountains online and the birds and other wildlife just love them! Many come up when I have done online searches.

What do you do to conserve water but keep your gardens and wildlife healthy? Did I miss something? Please leave a comment and let us know!


  1. I just visited your blog for the first time. I love the tips! Thanks so much.

    1. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting! Hope to see you again :)

  2. Great posting! I think this being very informative post,thanks for sharing.

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