Watering Without Waste

(For Blog Action Day 2010, we are all focusing on water issues. Here is the GardenBasics column I wrote for the Summer 2010 issue of Washington Gardener Magazine.)

So far in 2010, our gardens have gone from drought to deluge and now back to drought again. Typically, in the greater Washington metropolitan region, the six weeks in the heart of summer, from mid-July through the end of August, are our driest period of the year. On top of that, it is typically the same time that we gardeners abandon our plants for a few days or weeks of much-deserved rest and relaxation away from home. But what can we do to ensure our green buddies are still alive and thriving when we return from vacation? Here are a few tips for keeping them moist, along with my personal pointers for saving water in general:

• Try one of the various polymers on the market, such as SoilMoist. When you plant up your containers, mix the polymers in with the potting soil. Follow the directions for mixing and proportions exactly — a little goes a long way.

• Already planted up all your containers? It’s not too late to add polymers now by gently poking in a pencil near the roots and adding the hydrated polymers in the hold. This works for planting directly in the ground as well. If you have a plant that is especially thirsty, add polymers around the base of it so you do not have to water them so often.

• Install a rain barrel. You can make one yourself at numerous area workshops or purchase one from a garden supply company. (See related story on next page.) Use it to hand-water any container plants. Mine seem to greatly appreciate rainwater versus the chlorinated tap or hose water. A rain barrel at each downspout can save hundreds of gallons of water per year.

• Bring a bucket or two in the shower with you. Collect the water you run to get the temperature right and your rinse water to dump on your thirsty plants. This latter, soapy “gray water” actually provides a bit of bug-resistance to your plants, as well as giving them a good drink.

• Water in the early morning. You’ve heard this before, but, if you want to minimize evaporation and get the most benefit from your waterings, you’ll do it early and, for bonus points, pick an overcast day to beat the drying effects of the summer sun. (Of course, this will ensure it will rain right afterwards!)

• When watering with a hose or watering can, aim the water at the soil. No need to drench the plant. Wet leaves can actually invite fungal diseases. Soak the plant root zone.

• Measure and time your watering. Set a kitchen timer or put out cleaned tuna cans to keep track of how much you are doing each time. Optimally, you will water your garden and lawn just once or twice a week and give it a good, slow, long drink of 1-to-2 inches total. Don’t forget your trees! Young trees need 25 gallons each, according to Casey Trees.

• Invest in soaker hoses, flow timers, and extra water outlets to make your task easier and more precise. No need to over water or let the excess flow down the sewer drain. Sprinklers that spray the sidewalk and pathways do nothing for your plantings.

• If it rains more than an inch in any given week, don’t water your lawn and garden that week! Override your timers if you have them. Nothing is more wasteful than having lawn sprinklers going full blast during or right after a good rain.

• Make a point to check your container plants daily. They dry out much quicker than those in the ground and may also be blocked from receiving direct rain by porch roofs or other obstructions.

• Make a drip irrigation system out of recycled soda bottles. This is perfect for watering your containers while you’re away for a time. There are many sources of directions for this project. I found an especially easy-to-follow one you can make at yougrowgirl.com.

• Look for other water sources around your home. I often dip a watering can into my pond and give my tomato plants a nice, healthy dose of fish-fertilized water.

• When you clean out your birdbath, dump the old water on nearby green things.

• When it really rains during a summer storm, your rain barrels can fill in minutes, so put out a few extra containers to collect that overflow as well.

• You may be able to connect a hose to your clothes washer, dehumidifier, or AC unit to re-use that gray water for indoor and outdoor plant watering.

Look with new eyes at all the water you use and could possibly re-use. May you and your plants be in the best of health and well-hydrated throughout the growing season! o

Kathy Jentz is Editor/Publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine. Se gets her daily weight-lifting workout by carrying loads of rain barrel water to all her hanging plants throughout the summer. She can be reached at Wgardenermag at aol dot com.


Kent said…
I find that drip irrigation systems are much more controlable and cheaper than soaker hoses. The are calabrated and can be used to place exact amounts of water where needed.

Drip can also be used on container plants and when placed on a timer, there's no worry about a favorite plant going dry.

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