We are wrapping up our spring series on starting your own garden, and hopefully you’ve enjoyed it so far, and have learned enough to get your hands dirty!
Now, on to our last “official” lesson:
One of the most important things you will ever do for your garden is….water it!
Today we will discuss a couple of different watering techniques. Depending on your climate and location, some techniques may be appropriate in your area, and others may not. If you live somewhere where you have an abundant and constant supply of water for your garden, consider yourself lucky! But even so, overconsumption of water is always a concern to the dedicated sustainable gardener. However, there are some methods of watering which can be used sustainably, even in dry climates. Whether you live in an area that is going through a drought, or you just want to save water, I suggest you try some of these techniques.
If you’re looking for ways to keep your garden watered without wasting too much time and money, you’ve probably gone through a whole slew of options in your mind. Maybe you’ve considered a sprinkler, a hose, or a good old-fashioned watering can. All of these methods might be convenient, but a lot of the time you will end up wasting water on plants that don’t need it. And if you live in a drought struck area, you know that every bit of water counts.
Some soil types retain water better than others. If you have hard soil (too much clay, for example), it can also be hard to get the water to soak in, meaning you may be forced to water more often than necessary in order to get it to actually absorb into the roots. If you have this problem, you can fix it by loading the soil up with lots of compost. This not only helps keep water from escaping, but encourages the plant’s roots to be healthy and able to survive more challenges.
Plant Placement & Rain Barrels
One thing you may want to try is to optimize your plant placement from the start, placing plants that require similar amounts of water in the same areas. That way you are not wasting water on plants that don’t need it, and you can also save time by just watering the sections that do.
You can also use rain barrels to collect and save rainwater. This is a sustainable and economical approach to watering your garden, and depending on your local rainfall and efficiency of your collection system, it can satisfy part or even all of your watering needs. (This is much easier than it sounds, and we will be covering this topic more in depth in a future blog, so keep your eye out for this!)
The installation of a drip irrigation system is another option you can use to cut down the amount of water you’ll need to fully water your garden. One of the main advantages of the drip irrigation system is its efficiency. Instead of spraying large amounts of water everywhere like a hose does, it makes the most of your precious water by putting it exactly where it is needed. It can also provide your garden with a constant source of water, instead of just having your plants go thirsty whenever you’re not around to water them.
The great thing about these systems is that they constantly drip right into the roots of your plants, so that almost every single drop is absorbed. With traditional watering systems, often the roots get too overwhelmed with the sheer amount of water entering the soil. Thus, a lot of the incoming water just seeps right past, and is wasted. This problem is avoided with the drip system.
When you install a drip irrigation system, you can choose one of two varieties: above ground and under ground. The above ground method drips small amounts of water continuously onto the ground, and allows it to soak in. This is all regulated from a pressure controller, which ensures that the water just comes out at a drip instead of a spray or a stream. These pressure level regulators are very inexpensive. The whole drip system can be set up with a pressure regulator and a garden hose with holes poked in it (although it is ideal for you to get a pipe designed for this type of use, I’ve found that the hose method works acceptably). You can find a good drip/soaker hose recommended on our website.
The underground system is a bit more of a challenge to install and maintain. But if you’re really into the aesthetic aspect of your garden and don’t want any visible watering system, then you might consider it worth it. It’s essentially the same as the above ground version, only a small trench is dug for the hose or pipe prior to any planting. This allows the water direct access to the roots for the most efficiency. (Plus, you can impress your neighbors by having a beautiful garden without ever going outside to water it. They’ll be baffled!)
To choose between the two systems, you need to take several things into account. Do you have the same plant layout year round? If it is always changing, you probably won’t want to cover your hose. It can be quite a chore to dig it up and re-align it with all your new plants every year or so. Even if your plant layout never changes, you need to consider how much you actually mind seeing a hose in your garden. If it actually bothers you to the extent that you’re willing to work for a few hours to get rid of it, then by all means bury it. But otherwise I would suggest staying above ground if for nothing else than the convenience of repairing and rearranging.
So if you’re looking for an easy, cheap, convenient, and efficient alternative watering method, I would recommend purchasing the necessary items to install a drip irrigation system. I think you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to grow a garden after you have it.
However, if you still seem to need more water than you can easily supply to your garden, or want to save even more water, you might consider which plants you could replace with less water-dependent plants. If you want a good shrub that doesn’t use up more than its share of water, look for something like Heavenly Bamboo. It is not only tolerant of droughts, but looks quite decorative in any garden. Also, tasty herbs such as rosemary are useful in preparing meals, and don’t require much water (in fact, rosemary grows very well all by itself, even in desert climates).
If you’re trying to find flowers that will still be lush and beautiful despite the lower amounts of water, look for penstemon varieties like Garnet, Apple Blossom, Moonbeam, and Midnight. You can attract hummingbirds and butterflies with varieties like Cosmos and Yarrow. Tulips also grow well without much water, and can be a vibrant and lovely accent to a spring garden or border!
The Lavender plant is another good choice. A large group of Lavender plants looks unbelievably gorgeous in your garden, and hardly requires any water to flourish. Pineapple sage, a 2-foot shrub that smells somewhat like pineapple, is another interesting option. It’s another major attractor of hummingbirds, and the leaves are also useful to add taste to tea and other drinks.
So if you are in the position of dealing with a drought and perhaps watering regulations, or even just wanting to conserve water and garden more sustainably, I suggest you try some of the things I’ve mentioned.
I hope this helps you with your garden planning (and planting). If you would like more tips and articles on sustainable gardening, be sure to check out our website, and subscribe to our free weekly Sustainable Gardening Newsletter!
And as promised, in our final post in this spring series, we will cover the all-important topic of composting, so stay tuned — even if you’re in a small apartment with just a patio garden, you, too can learn to make and benefit from your own compost! Be sure to keep your eye out for this.
‘Til then, ciao, and happy gardening!