Everyone needs to save time and money so when it comes to watering your garden, these tips are a no brainer. Regardless of whether you are in a drought area where the water you can use is already restricted, it is one of our precious resources and unless you own your own well, can cost quite a bit. With just a little re-evaluation of our garden lay-out, we can save both the time it takes to water and put a little coin back into our own pocket!
How to Save Water in Your Garden
Here are my ten helpful tips for you to conserve and manage water efficiently, put money in your pocket and garden more sustainably:
Take a moment to rethink how much water literally goes down the drain at your place. Pick one of these ideas to start saving time and money in your garden.
- Water Pots in the Afternoon and your Garden in the Morning – Research* shows that the timing of when you water pot plants during the day can have a significant effect on plant growth. The potted plants used in the research were grown in pine bark based potting mix (which is not only commonly used in the nursery industry, but also is a popular choice for many home gardeners.) Pine bark based potting mixes however have low moisture retention properties, meaning pot plants dry out more quickly.
The research found that plants watered after 12.00 pm and during the afternoon, “significantly outperformed plants grown with early morning irrigation.” So, watering container plants in the afternoon may lead to healthier, stronger growing plants compared to container plants watered early in the morning.
Pot plants grown in pine bark based potting mix tend to dry out quickly and can benefit from being watered in the afternoon.
According to the University of Illinois Extension, the optimal watering time for the rest of the garden, is early morning before the temperatures begin to rise, winds are lower and there is less evaporation. Morning watering gives the plants a good supply of water to face the heat of the day.
Avoid evening watering especially on the foliage as night-time temperatures are often inadequate to dry the moisture on the leaves which can encourage some fungal pathogens to establish. However, any time plants start to show symptoms of drought stress is the time to water them – even if this means the middle of the day. Waiting too long may be too late.
Dr Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Horticulturalist & Associate Professor with the Washington State University says “ANY time plants exhibit drought stress symptoms is the time to water them” even if this is in the heat of the day.
- Harvest Water – Save and reuse water wherever you can:
- Install a water tank rather than wasting rainwater, to maximise roof runoff and redirect it for use on your garden. Slimline tank and water harvesting systems are available for even the tiniest of spaces.
- Save your Cooking Water – If you steam or boil vegetables, save the water rather than tipping it down the sink! It is full of nutrients and when cooled, makes a free fertiliser for watering your plants.
Save cooled water from cooking vegetables to water your garden. Reuse the valuable leached nutrients rather than tossing them down the drain.
- Reuse Fish Tank Water – When you clean your fish tank, use the ‘old’ nitrogen and phosphorous-rich water on your plants.
- Use a Compost System – Even micro gardeners can make compost no matter how small a space you might have. Whether you make or buy a worm farm or mini compost system, you will add a valuable water saving resource in your garden. Worm castings and compost hold moisture in your soil and help retain nutrients where they’re needed. Frugal gardeners needn’t buy a compost bin – there are many micro systems you can make yourself. I’ve made several low-cost systems that work well including converting a 60 litre black garbage bin by drilling 1cm holes on the sides and base and covering with the lid. It can be turned regularly by simply rolling it on its side!
- Bokashi – (fermented grain) bins are another efficient way to compost food scraps and add moisture to the soil. They are available commercially but if you’re a thrifty gardener you can easily make your own. All you need are a couple of buckets the same size – one fitted inside the other with holes drilled in the base of the top one to allow the liquid (fermented juice) from the scraps to drip into the base of the lower bucket. Finally, fit the lid to the top bucket. You then just dig the scraps into your garden or add to the compost and dilute the juice to use as a fertiliser. after collecting food scraps in the bokashi bin, dig them into the compost to feed soil microorganisms and build soil health. Bokashi sprinkled into the compost acts as an accelerator and speeds up decomposition. My food scraps disappear in a week in this active compost pile!
- There are also many DIY worm farm options providing you with valuable worm castings that are pure humus and hold maximum moisture in your soil or invest in a commercial one. A mini in-situ worm farm I use is the Little Rotter – it’s compact, made from a safe plastic and adds humus where you need it (directly in your garden).
- Choose Your Plant Container Carefully – Different materials heat up quickly or lose moisture due to porosity so think about your pot location before making a final decision. For example, metal heats up quickly so raised galvanised garden beds and metal containers will draw moisture out of the soil and these gardens will need more watering. If you live in a hot climate, this may be a major consideration. Clay pots such as unglazed terracotta also lose moisture through their porous surface and the soil will dry out faster than glazed pots. If you just have to have that metal or terracotta container, then consider using them as a cache pot (an outer decorative pot) and put a smaller less porous pot inside to retain vital moisture. Clay and glazed pots have different porosity affecting how much moisture they retain and lose.
- Mulch, Mulch, Mulch! Up to 70% of water can evaporate from the soil on a hot day if you don’t have mulch as a protective layer on top. Mulch is one of the best moisture holding strategies you can employ. It prevents evaporation from the soil surface, helps suppress water-thieving weeds from growing and many mulches add vital nutrients to the soil at the same time. Avoid fine mulches that tend to clump and become water-repellent. Instead, use a coarser mulch which allows water/rain to move down through to the soil. A depth of 3-5cm in a pot (depending on the size) and even deeper (8-10cm) in a garden bed is ideal. Apply mulch onto moist soil and water in well.
Bark chip mulch is coarse, holds moisture well and allows water to drain easily to the soil below. Avoid mulches like fresh grass clippings that mat and stop water filtering through
- Reduce the Impact of Water Guzzling Plants – Species with low water needs will save you time and money in the garden. These include:
- established or slow growing plants
- small plants
- varieties with small or narrow leaves
- grey or silver foliage or
- leathery, hairy, curled or fuzzy leaves that typically require less moisture
Take a look at the species in your garden and see how many low water use plants you have. Look for narrow leaves that lose less moisture. Or is your garden full of water guzzling plants?
Growing a majority of thirsty plants that suck up moisture can steal your time and money! These include:
- those with high fertiliser needs
- species with large leaves
- newly planted vegetation or
- fast growing species
Broad leafed plants use their leaves like large ‘solar panels’ to photosynthesize and grow, but they also lose more moisture and have a greater need for water.
Large leafed plants require and transpire more water over a larger surface area than slender leafed varieties. Leaves that reflect more of the sun’s radiation (e.g. gray or silver) usually lose water through transpiration at a lower rate than green leaves. Plants that can tolerate higher leaf temperatures also evaporate water at a lower rate. For example, herbs like small fine-leafed rosemary and thyme have minimal water needs compared to larger leafed basil and sage. Natives and succulents may make better choices than some of the more common landscape plants, so do a garden ‘audit’ and make water-wise choices. Succulents are very low maintenance plants
“Remember, any newly installed plants (even natives and drought-tolerant species) need adequate water until they become established when water requirements will reduce.”
According to the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona, “drought tolerant plants are not necessarily low water use plants and vice versa.” Some plants are drought tolerant, but are high water users when water is accessible. Drought tolerant plants become dormant when soil water is unavailable and then become active when water is available again. “Many plants not normally considered low water use species become water thrifty for survival when soil moisture is limited. Some plants considered low water use species will use water at a high rate if water is available and revert to low water use when not available.” So the message is: low water use plants won’t conserve water if they are irrigated as high water use plants!
Continue reading: Water Saving Tips for Your Garden