Ways to Efficiently Conserve Water in the Garden

Lucy Mercer
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Gardens thrive on tender loving care, and in the summer, lots and lots of water. Water is a precious resource, and whether or not your community has water restrictions, it’s wise to make your garden water-efficient. Your plants and lawn will be stronger and your watering bill will be lower.

Vegetables need about an inch of water a week, either through rainfall, garden hose or irrigation system. In dry climates, double that amount. In the very hottest days of summer, the amount of water your garden needs will increase as well.

Lawns require about 30 minutes of watering a week, either two days a week at 15 minutes, or three days a week at 10 minutes. Keep in mind that well-timed watering will encourage strong root growth and make the plants work for the water.

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 5 tips for watering your garden and lawn:

  1. Water early in the day for maximum effect. A good drink of water first thing in the morning is ideal for vegetables, flowers and lawns. Water given in the heat of the day is lost to evaporation and if you water too late in the evening, the moisture won’t have time to evaporate, leading to problems with mildew and disease.
  2. Water the roots, not the leaves. A soaker hose can be beneficial for this kind of watering, offering a slow drip to encourage healthy root growth. To lessen evaporation from the soaker hose, cover it with a layer of mulch. Read more about soaker hoses.
  3. Purchase and use a water timer. Let technology help you know when it’s cutoff time. Manual timers start at about $13, and digital timers offer benefits such as remote access. 
  4. A rain gauge is handy to measure water; you can also place a container under the hose, sprinkler or drip system. 
  5. Consider the olla, touted as the original drip irrigation system. An olla is an unglazed terra cotta pot that is buried in the garden, among the flowers and vegetables, leaving just the top exposed. The olla is filled with water and it slowly leaches out of the porous clay into the soil, right at the roots. There is little evaporation because the process all happens beneath the soil surface. You can make your own olla out of terra cotta pots joined with silicone caulking, or purchase one from The Home Depot.

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Long-term solutions:

  • Amend your soil with compost so that it is rich in nutrients, water-retentive and well-draining.
  • Pack your garden full of plants. Concentrated, intense watering is more efficient because there is less evaporation. So go ahead and put a lot of plants in a small space, such as a raised bed.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch. A 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch keeps the heat of the sun from drying the soil. Not sure how much or what kind to use? Try our Mulch Calculator.
  • Install a rain barrel and use collected water in the garden. Purchase new, or create your own rain barrel from a 32-gallon trash can. Be sure to place it in a space where children can’t access it, and toss in a mosquito pellet about once a month.
  • Consider a drip irrigation system – an effective method in small gardens, delivering water to the base of each plant.

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