You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. Fresh water is a precious resource – and it’s in short supply. Growing food at home means regular watering, but despite this, growing your own veg is far less of a drain on the environment than buying it in a store. All the same, you’d like to save water – not only as a benefit to the environment – but also as a saving on effort, time, and your utility bill. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do. Let’s take a look at how!
Cut Down on Lawn Area
Lawns were once a massive status symbol. They needed to be cut by hand, and few people could afford to have one. They still have their place, especially if you have kids or pets needing a friendly surface for outdoor play, but they’re way more maintenance-intensive than beds and keeping them looking good means using water on what is, essentially, an unproductive space. It doesn’t produce food. It looks – okay – but unexciting. It needs to be weeded (hello work) and mowed (hello emissions) and it needs regular water in dry spells. That’s just the start. Keep the lawn area to the minimum you need for leisure activities and focus on gardening that’s good for your palate or your soul instead.
Yes I KNOW. We’re always telling people to mulch, but that’s because it’s such a sensible idea with so many benefits. A layer of anything on top of the soil helps to suppress weeds and reduces evaporation, helping your plants to stay moist for longer. An organic mulch will also improve the soil structure over time, boosts beneficial microorganisms, and helps to regulate the soil’s temperature. You can buy mulch or just use garden waste like fallen leaves and grass clippings to make your own. If you want something that looks pretty, you can even use cobble stones, but choose chunky ones that are easy to shift because you’ll be moving them out every time you need to dig in more compost.
Group Plants According to Water Requirements
Grouping Plants according to water requirements so that you don’t water things that don’t need water in order to irrigate those that do can save a lot of water. Depending on what you grow, you may need to use a little trial and error to find the right combinations, but our companion planting guide could also be of help. You’ll also need to be observant and spend some time getting to know which plants need water often, and which can skip a watering in between.
Of course, seed and seedlings need water fairly often, so replant in groups to help you manage watering according to the life-stage your plants are in. Finally, remember that a little shading works wonders – and that could just mean having some tall plants shading your younger ones and those with higher water requirements during the hottest part of the day.
Xeriscape Your Ornamental Garden
Even the most pragmatic garder is thrilled by the sight of a beautiful ornamental garden – and it doesn’t have to be water intensive. Choose plants that do well in your natural climate so that you only need to water them during the driest spells. Native plants and succulents are obvious choices, but some of the plants one uses in “fine gardening” could suit you too. Zinnias, MArigolds, Petunias, Sunflowers, Salvias, and Cosmos are just a few examples. They’ll add lots of colour and shouldn’t be too heavy on the watering needs.
So, if you thought xeriscaping meant rocks, pebbles, and a few succulents, think again – it’s only one approach. First steps to xeriscaping? Cut down on lawn, select drought tolerant plants, and mulch.
Water by Hand or Watch That Irrigation
Automated irrigation systems with a “set and forget” routine are a huge waste of water. Most people set them too frequently and don’t have their garden irrigation split into zones according to watering needs. Overwatering isn’t good for plants, and in the nursery industry, we generally assume that home gardens with irrigation systems will be overwatered.
Then there are missed maintenance needs: broken pipes, blocked emitters, or those nozzles that break or fall off causing a fountain rather than a spray in one place and starving the rest of the sprayers of water. And of course, sprayers overlap the areas they’re meant to water, so you’re probably watering paving as well as plants. If you have irrigation and prefer to use it over hand watering, keep an eye on it and be ready to mend and maintain as needed.
Alternatively, grab the hose pipe in one hand, a cold drink in the other, and water that way. It will cost way less water and it’s super-relaxing.
Use Drip Irrigation
As someone who has run farms with all kinds of irrigation systems, I have to admit that drip irrigation is the exception to the “irrigation wastes water” rule. It delivers water at ground level, and you can get quite scientific about how much water goes where.
However, it does have a few disadvantages. It doesn’t look nice – and you’d better be checking those emitters in case any of them get blocked. I used to walk the fields daily to check the drips, and there’d still be occasional gaps, especially in the newly planted windbreaks which were harder to check. Nobody likes seeing dead, drought-stricken plants in a row. Then there’s the matter of breached pipes which means the whole system doesn’t develop enough pressure to work: definitely not a set and forget option, but better than sprinklers at all events.
Catch the Rain and Use Your Grey Water
This is a huge topic, but I’ll try and condense it into a few basics. First up, beds can be shaped to catch the rain. You can make whole rain gardens on the downslope of your property or try to channel runoff to your thirstiest plants.
Next up: rainwater harvesting is HUGE. It’s the third-largest source of water in Australia! In case you haven’t encountered the concept, it means collecting rainwater from your roof, storing it in tanks, and using it whenever you need it.
Grey water is a biggie too . It means using water from anywhere except the toilet for your garden instead of letting all that H2O go down the drain. Theoretically you can store it, but you need to use it up pretty fast. My preference is to drain it straight out to the places that need the most water in my garden. Because it’s flood irrigation, it won’t affect the leaves, and soap (in moderation) is actually pretty good for helping the water to wet the soil.
There’s More, But These are the Basics
We’ve only touched on each topic so far, and there’s more to go. Did you know that hydroponics, or its hybrid sister, aquaponics, use less water than conventional growing methods? We should probably also mention time of day (mornings and late afternoons are best.) And of course, there are obvious garden water wastes like spraying down paving or keeping the hose running while you wash the car. What’s your top garden water saving tip? Join the discussion!