With more regions experiencing drought conditions, it’s important to conserve water whenever possible. Of course plants need water to grow, but there are many ways we can reduce the amount of water we use on our lawns, flower and vegetable gardens, and containers to minimize waste.
Pay attention to the soil
Digging compost, aged manure, chopped leaves, and other sources of organic matter into your soil improves its moisture-holding capacity and structure. This also applies to container-grown flowers and vegetables.
Be sure to include organic matter as well as potting mix in your pots and planters when you fill them each spring. I mix two-thirds potting mix and one-third compost or bagged aged manure for my container gardens.
When choosing containers, opt for those made from materials like plastic that hold water. Terra cotta dries out very quickly. You may also want a self-watering container which has a built-in water reservoir to collect rainwater and excess irrigation water.
Boost lawn soil by core aerating every year or two. Once the lawn has been aerated, top-dress with a scant half centimetre of fine compost, raking well. The compost will fill the holes left by the aerator and improve the soil and its ability to hold water.
Choose drought tolerant plants
When planting new shrubs and perennials, look for those that require less moisture. A clue to drought tolerance is the foliage—plants with fuzzy or grey and silvery leaves often need less water. Lavender, catmint, lamb’s ears, ornamental grasses, and Russian sage are all beautiful low water perennials.
Plants like sedums with waxy succulent leaves are also drought-tolerant, as well as many native plants like coneflowers and rudbeckias. In containers, grow water-wise annuals and herbs like geraniums, portulaca, gazania, lantana, celosia, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.
Be water smart
Water smart means watering at the right time to reduce evaporation and watering based on your garden and soil type. Containers, for example, need to be watered far more than an in-ground or even a raised bed garden. Clay soil holds water better than sandy soil, and both benefit from regular applications of compost.
Water the plants that need it the most. Newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials benefit from regular deep irrigation the first year, but should be hardy enough in subsequent years to get by on rainwater alone. Annual flowers, vegetables, and container gardens need consistent moisture and require frequent irrigation.
It’s important to water at the right time and with the right equipment. Setting up a sprinkler in your garden on a sunny day at noon is going to result in a lot of wasted water, instead, aim to water early in the morning or in the evening to reduce evaporation. I prefer to water my vegetables in the morning so the foliage has time to dry off before nightfall. Wet leaves can spread disease. Using soaker hoses in vegetable beds is a good way to reduce water waste.
Mulching with bark mulch or another natural material helps retain water in shrub and flower beds, but it’s also essential in the vegetable garden. I mulch my vegetable beds with several inches of straw or shredded leaves to reduce watering. Bonus - mulching also means fewer weeds!
Adding a rain barrel to your garden is a smart way to collect diverted rainwater from your roof, a shed, or even a greenhouse. Many rain barrels are extremely ornamental in design with most having a spigot to fill watering cans.