Low water gardening is really important for me living in a really dry climate and it’s also a frugal gardening measure. By reducing water usage in the garden you’re saving bucks on bills! Find out just how you can grow a great garden and use less of this precious resource by reading on!
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My goodness it feels like forever since I last posted on my blog. Work has really been taking over and I’ve not had much of a work-life balance recently, luckily the garden is somewhat taking care of itself and we have had some rain!
There’s really something about how rain makes a garden look and grow, I never fully appreciated just how wonderful the garden looks after a good shower until I moved here to Utah. Everything looks so vibrant, green and I’m pretty sure it’s all taller!
The Impact of Water
Rainforests how huge, diverse and abundant, partly from all the water they receive from rainfall. Where I live, there is a huge drive to use less water because the water used in the cities comes from the rainfall and snowpack from the mountains.
This was Christmas Day in 2015.
Water is diverted for industry, agriculture and for us people to have fresh out the faucet and to keep our lawns green and the neighbors happy. Agriculture accounts for 63% of the water diverted whilst industry and municipal water use account for 11%. Water is diverted from the natural course from snow melt in the mountains running off into the lake and from the lake itself.
The Great Salt Lake has shrunk in recent years see the pictures from NASA here. The shrinking is from climate changes such as ongoing drought and from human impact.
Why it Matters To You
If you live in the Valley like I do, a smaller lake means increased dust storms from the exposed lake bed, rising health problems such as asthma, pulmonary and cardiovascular risks for people and pets.
A smaller lake has impacts on the ecology from increasing salt levels, disrupting the brine shrimp habitat and the birds which come and feed on the shrimp. Thousands of birds which call the Great Salt Lake home or migratory feeding grounds will disappear changing the ecosystem drastically.
Goblin Valley with Sparky & Teddy back in 2014. It had just been torrential rains and mudslides the day before and reminded me of a barren post-apocalyptic backdrop to a video game or a movie.
Utah has some spectacular desert to the south where erosion has created magnificent monuments in Monument Valley, Arches and the Hoodoos in Goblin Valley but it isn’t what we want to happen to the northern part of the state.
Dry, arid landscapes wash away when the rains come and plants cannot take a hold.
If you don’t think that one species can change an ecosystem, look how the introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park back in 1995 changed rivers and saved an ecosystem in this short video:
To read more about this check out the IFLScience article.
Even if you don’t live in the Valley here in the Wasatch Front, you can do something to help reduce water usage.
If you don’t want to do it for the environment, do it for your wallet. The less water you use, the cheaper your water bill will be if you are metered.
How you can use less water in the garden
There are many ways you can reduce water usage in the garden and most are pretty frugal too! I’m going to break them down into how easy they are to apply to your garden so you can be inspired to start small and have a big impact.
Mulch conserves water in the soil by covering bare earth to reduce evaporation by the sun. Mulching also reduces weeds by suppressing growth and helps to build soil is organic mulches are applied to the soil.
Cover your garden beds with the following mulches to keep the water in the soil:
- Untreated grass clippings
- Shredded weeds
- Shredded junk mail
Apply at least 2 inches thick of mulch and leave a gap between seedlings or stalks and the mulch.
2. Direct Watering
Ditch the overhead sprinklers and opt to water with the watering can. Water directly at the base of the plants to ensure the roots get a deep watering.
There are devices to help with direct watering at the roots like the Oya, sinking plastic bottles upside down with the bottom cut off or a plant pot at the roots to water into as a reservoir.
3. Drip Irrigation
Depending on what irrigation you have set up, building a drip irrigation system can be a little tough but the rewards of this set and forget watering system are great especially if you travel and don’t have anyone to tend to your garden whilst you are away.
Drip irrigation allows you to cater to your plants needs for water at each section. You can increase or decrease the amount of water at each set point which means your water loving watermelons can be getting lots of water whilst your spicy peppers get a lot less water to keep them hot all on the same line.
This this an advantage to growers to get the best from their produce without lots of manual watering. Drip irrigation is an investment and great for small space gardeners who grow vertically as well as raised beds.
4. Soaker Hose Irrigation
Depending on your setup for irrigation, switching to soaker hoses can be really easy to do and can be set to a timer from a faucet.
The hoses are run through the bed by the plants and concentrate water at the roots rather than overhead sprinklers which wet everything.
Soaker hoses help keep your plants drier on top which can be a benefit at reducing powdery mildew, fungus or blight.
5. Rainwater Catchment
Setting up rainwater catchment in barrels is great for your garden! It was a very English thing to do and most gardens and allotments have some sort of rainwater catchment. You can see the rain harvesting system I had in England on my old allotment in the picture above over by the shed hooked up to the guttering.
You can even set up the rainwater harvesting system to go directly into the garden bed:
Check your local city ordinances and by-laws before you set something up; it is illegal in some areas to set up rainwater catchment.
6. Sunken Garden Beds
A sunken garden bed traps morning dew and water very much like how valleys capture water. The beds above were early spring at Cawdor Castle in Scotland. Digging a garden bed which is sunk down lower will collect more water and help to keep roots cooler.
For more information on sunken beds see this post by One Green Planet.
The video below from Elizabeth at Little Farm Big Dreams from about 7 minutes shows the sunken beds she is building in Arizona:
7. Wicking Beds
Also know as Self watering beds, these need some materials to get setup but by watering from below, the evaporative loss is much, much lower.
Watering below the root level encourages seedlings and plants to send out strong roots to find water and can make stronger, healthier plants.
To see how to set up a wicking bed check out the links below:
8. Grow Heat Tolerant & Drought Tolerant Varieties
You can get many varieties of vegetable plants now which are drought tolerant or heat tolerant from many suppliers to help you use less water.
These plants often have shorter days to maturity than “regular” varieties of vegetables which means that they will produce quicker.
Some types of drought resistant fruit and vegetables include:
- Creole Original Tomato
- Hopi Pink Flour Corn
- Armenian Cucumber
- Purple Viking Potato
- Li Jujube
- Oaxacan Green Corn
- Tepary Bean
- Sevillano Olive
- Sugar Baby Watermelon
- Bloody Butcher Corn
- Black Beauty Mulberry
- Black Mission Fig
- Golji Berry
- Al-Kuffa Tomato
- Victoria Cherry Rhubarb
- Black Seeded Simpson Leaf Lettuce
- Shinseiki Asian Pear
- Bronze Fennel
- Burgundy Amaranth
- Painted Mountain Corn
- Kazakh Melon
- Black Plum Tomato
- Afghan Honeydew Melon
- Ground Cherry
- Galilee Spinach
This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means but if you have plants which grow well in drought or hot conditions save the seed to grow on and preserve those resistant qualities!
9. Get Composting
I will admit it, I am obsessed with composting! I compost EVERYTHING I can (barring some exceptions like my waste) to create organic and biodynamic compost for my garden.
The addition of homemade compost will increase the humus and organic matter of your soil which helps to retain more moisture.
I’m using tumbling composters in the garden and you can find out why in my video here:
And see how they are doing 2 months later right here:
By adding compost to your soil you will retain more water and have healthier plants which will handle heat stress and drought stress a lot better.
10. Create Shade
Easy – Medium
Shade is a benefit in hot climates and will reduce evaporation. You can buy shade cloth to cover your plants and reduce the amount of light on them to slow down bolting (running to seed) and reduce evaporation of water in the soil and from the plant.
Shade can also be created by growing on a trellis and planting underneath or by shading the soil with a ground cover. Creeping Oregon Grape or Mahonia, sweet woodruff and thyme are good choices as ground cover for a bed which can grow edibles and non edibles. If you want to grow flowers which benefit pollinators wisteria, trumpet vines and honeysuckle grow well on trellis throughout summer.
The Three Sisters growing method of squash, corn and beans is a great way to reduce water in the garden. The squash shades the soil reducing evaporative water loss for the other plants whilst the beans fix nitrogen providing food and the corn is the trellis for the beans.
Medium – Hard
You can use permaculture growing techniques such as tree guilds and swales to make the best use of water in the garden.
Swales and terraces retain and move water in the garden and require some work to build but only need to be formed once for year on year benefits.
Tree guilds like the Three Sisters growing above are a polyculture or companion planting method of growing. Trees are underplanted with ground cover to smother weeds and retain water. You can find out more about tree guilds over at Tenth Acre Farm
12. Plant Intensively
In deep or well-amended soils, roots have more room to grow deeper and find water. This will allow you to plant more intensively which also may have the benefit of reducing water loss since leaves help to shade the ground.
You may find that planting in mounds versus rows and slightly reducing the recommended spacing of plants on the seed packet allows you to have a productive garden using less water.
Square foot gardening can be a great way for small space gardeners to maximize crop production and safe water! Find out more about square foot gardening spacing for plants here or try this plant spacing calculator to plant even more with a triangular planting pattern!
One Yard Revolution on YouTube is a great channel I follow, Patrick did a great video about intensive planting a couple of weeks ago and you can check it out below:
13. Create windbreaks
The wind can strip the moisture from plants in the heat, help conserve water with windbreaks in the garden or planting hedges and buffer zones where the prevailing winds are to reduce the impact in your garden.
What is your favorite way to save water or reduce your water use in your garden? Let me know in the comments!
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If you have any tips to share with me or other readers please share them in the comments or at the Misfit Gardening Community Forum, we would love to hear your ideas and tips.