Use these water saving tips to help you and your garden survive dry times with less stress. It may also help you save on cost, given watering the garden can account for up to 50% of your water bill in the summer months.
Gardening is a therapeutic hobby that refreshes the mind and the body. The only trouble is when a lack of rain leads to drought or water restrictions, all your hard work can seem wasted as grass turns brown and flowers wilt.
- Water the garden in a way that optimises intake. That is, avoid frequent, short watering. Instead, water for longer, but less frequently - once a week should be enough, depending on the weather conditions. Soaring temperatures and hot wind will dry the ground out more quickly. The extra water will soak in more deeply and encourage roots to grow down deep. They will then be protected from the dryness and heat in the top layers of soil. And when it comes to the lawn, short, sharp bursts from the hose increase penetration.
- Mulch the garden to prevent evaporation and keep those roots cool and damp. Mulching can be as simple as spreading your lawn clippings over the garden, but make sure you don’t spread them too thickly, as this can prevent water from penetrating at all. Mulches can be organic material such as leaves and straw, or non-organic such as pebbles, black plastic or landscape material. Plastic should be avoided as a permanent addition as it prevents water from soaking in and the heat from it kills the good bacteria in the soil. It’s only good for annuals and should be removed at the end of the growing season to allow the soil to recover. Organic matter is best, as this gradually decomposes and provides good nutrients for your plants.
- Install drip irrigation. This delivers a small amount of water directly to the roots of the plants where it’s needed most. There’s very little evaporation and no run-off, so water doesn’t go to waste. If you use spray irrigation, try to situate it so water doesn’t run off into the gutter. You can set a timer so you don’t forget to turn off the water.
- Wash your car on the lawn, rather than the driveway. This will give the lawn a good drink. It’s also a good idea to use a bucket for the wash and a hose just for the rinse off. Much less water is wasted when you use a bucket.
- Make use of your grey water. You can get a special attachment that reroutes your laundry and bath water into a holding tank, which can then be used for the garden. If you go this route, make sure you choose detergents that are earth-friendly and don’t have high levels of sodium. Water from the toilet is not included in grey water. A rainwater tank can also be used to harvest storm run-off from your roof. Rather than letting it run away down the gutter, pipe it into the tank and save it for a dry day.
- Choose plants carefully. Many of our garden flowers were imported from Britain, where they have a much higher rainfall. That means those flowers need more water than we get as rainfall in Australia. By choosing Australian native plants, succulents or plants from other countries that are naturally drought hardy, you will have a better looking garden and minimise your water usage. Also, find out what kind of roots perennials have before purchasing them. Those with a strong tap root that grows down deep will often survive with very little water. Plants with shallow surface roots are much more likely to require copious amounts of water.
- When planting, combine plants with similar needs so you don’t waste water on those who don’t need it. If you live in a hot, dry area, plant trees or shrubs that will create dappled shade over your garden to reduce the heat and water evaporation.
- Take note of the weather forecast. If rain is due in a few days, hold off on watering your garden. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, make sure it does not come on during rain. Let nature take its course and water the garden for you. Some systems have a rain sensor that does this automatically.
- Make sure your watering is done during the coolest part of the day so there’s less evaporation. Watering in the evening is best because there are many hours for plants to absorb water before the sun rises to dry it all up.
- Choose your pot plants carefully, as hot weather dries up any water quickly. Choose light coloured pots, or paint black ones a light colour as black absorbs even more heat. Water saving crystals in the potting media will help retain water in the mix. Keeping pot plants in dappled shade during the hot summer months will also help. Use a drip tray underneath the pot to catch the run-off. This will be absorbed back into the pot where the plant can make use of it. However, not all plants like wet roots, so make sure it’s not there all the time. Again, drought hardy plants are best for pots. Clustering pots together helps to shade the outside of the pots, so they don’t get as hot. Many people overwater pot plants because the top of potting mix dries quickly and you think the whole lot is dry. Dig down a little way and see if that pot plant really does need watering.
These are just a few water saving strategies for your garden without compromising too much on your favourite pastime! Although you may not be able to implement all 10 of these tips, just remember, every little bit you do goes a long way to save water.
If you're interested to learn more broadly about conserving energy, take a look at our energy saving tips.