Water-Saving Tips for the Garden

If your region has an arid climate or has had watering restrictions because of drought conditions, you know how precious every drop of water is. Even in a moist, temperate climate, water is a natural resource that shouldn't be squandered. By following a few basic guidelines, you can maintain a healthy garden and still use water responsibly.

1. Apply Mulch
In all climates, a blanket of mulch plays a major role in keeping the soil moist. When sun and wind make contact with bare soil, they whisk the water away from the plants and into the atmosphere, where it evaporates. Mulch provides a barrier so that moisture stays in the soil where plants can access it. It also minimizes runoff and soil erosion. Shredded bark is a popular choice in many parts of the country, but pine needles, hay, and even stone can do the job.

2. Water in the Morning
To minimize evaporation, water early in the day when the sun is low and temperatures are cooler. Watering in the evening has a similar effect, but this can lead to disease because the foliage doesn't dry as quickly at night. If you see plants wilting on a hot summer afternoon, don't run for the hose: When it's sweltering, plants lose water faster than they can absorb it. But they should recover quickly as evening comes.

3. Know Your In-Ground System
If you have an automated in-ground watering system, familiarize yourself with its patterns of water application. If the stream strikes paved surfaces or the side of your house, a great deal of water may be wasted. The sprinkler heads can be adjusted easily to limit the range and arc of the spray; consult your owner's manual. Set the system to run during early morning hours, and use the override feature to turn it off temporarily when it's raining.

4. Prioritize Your Watering
Make a list of your plantings in order of their water need, always favoring the newest ones. Even plants that can withstand dry conditions need a helping hand getting established, so make sure plantings that have been in the ground for less than two years never want for water.

5. Choose Drought-Resistant Plants
There are many plants that tolerate or even thrive in dry soil, so you can still have a flower-filled garden while being conscientious about water use. Look online for lists of drought-tolerant plants, such as this one from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and this one from the city of Austin, Texas. You may find that plants you already have can live on less water than you usually give them.

6. Collect Rainwater
Tap into Mother Nature's irrigation system. To capture rain from your roof, you need just clean gutters, functional downspouts, and rain barrels. The latter can be as simple as a large, sturdy container that a downspout leads into or a more complex vessel with a spout and even a hose connection.

7. Sweep, Don't Rinse
Use a broom or a stiff brush instead of your hose to clean surfaces, walks, and tools.

8. Go to the Roots
Especially with woody plants, the fine roots that can absorb water are usually located at the periphery of the plant, not near the trunk or the crown.

9. Add Compost
Organic matter, such as compost or composted manure, acts like a sponge in the soil, soaking in water and retaining it for plants to use. Incorporate compost into the top three inches of your soil, or use it as a mulch, lightly raking it into the soil surface.

10. Use a Hose Washer
Leaky connections between hoses and accessories are more often than not caused by worn-out or missing hose washers. These small rubber rings create a tight seal that not only prevents leaks but also helps increase water pressure.

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