Do you find yourself with the hose in hand far more often than you’d care to admit? Although we have a symbiotic relationship with our gardens—in return for watering and feeding, they provide blooms and food—our portion of the workload can be considerably lightened by following these five tips:
1. Leave the Lawn
People municipalities report water usage doubles during the summer months. A large percentage of this is attributed to lawn irrigation.
Watering deeply once a week encourages a much better root system than watering lightly each day. Also, by mowing at a higher setting (6.5 cm), the grass retains water better.
Mow before the grass becomes so tall you have to rake the clippings, as the short clippings act as a desirable thatch that helps to fertilize and shade roots from the scorching sun.
Don’t panic if your lawn begins to turn brown during extended dry periods; it’s simply going dormant. An established lawn will recover and regain its green color once the rain returns.
2. Dig in the compost
By adding organic matter to your soil, you pump up its water-holding capacity by 10 times. Compost actually helps to regenerate poor soils and has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. It promotes higher yields of edible crops, too.
Use products such as sheep manure, mushroom compost, seaweed products, leaf mold, or chopped straw on your gardens. Fork the well-rotted compost into the soil around plants and incorporate it into new beds. The garden will thrive with all this biologically rich, organic material, in addition to requiring less watering.
3. Groundcovers are your friend
Ground-covering plants, like vinca minor, pachysandra, cotoneaster or Lamium, can save you hundreds of gallons of water compared to grass by helping to shade roots and slow down transpiration. They’ll also probably grow more successfully in areas that have defied attempts at establishing grass.
Ground cover plugs planted at 12-inch intervals will quickly spread within a few years to provide a maintenance-free carpet beneath a large tree, on a steep embankment, in dry shady areas, or beneath shrubs.
4. Mulch me, ¨Please
One of the best ways to retain moisture is to lay several inches of mulch in the garden. This layer of material keeps roots cool and moist while inhibiting weed germination and growth—rapid-growing bullies that rob water and nutrients from desirable plants. Products like bark mulch are popular and add an attractive finishing touch. They also help to disperse rainfall to reduce erosion. Some gardeners lay several sheets of damp newspaper beneath mulch to strengthen its value as a weed inhibitor.
5. Rethink Varieties
Although they are beautiful and provide non-stop color, most annuals are real water hogs. By using a combination of successively blooming, water-sipping shrubs, and perennials, you can still have your jewel tones. Low-maintenance daylilies and echinaceas are available in a riot of colors now. Lavender, yarrow, rudbeckia, citrus, monarda, and sedum are a few other great perennials. Ornamental grasses add four-season beauty and movement.
Whether you choose to mulch, ease up on lawn maintenance, or plant groundcover, taking steps to reduce your water consumption means less work for you, and more fun in the garden. Your wallet, your back, and the planet will thank you!