Is your summer garden looking thirsty? During the warm, drier days of summer, home gardens may experience the effects of residential water restrictions. Discover how to help plants thrive with water-wise gardening.
By July, most gardeners have completed their planting. Now’s the time to consider how to save water while keeping your garden quenched and green. Try these easy water-wise gardening tips.
“Mulching your plants is probably the best summer activity to conserve water in your garden,” says Patricia Fleming, executive director of the Earthwise Society in Delta, BC, and designer of the Earthwise Garden.
“Depending on what you grow, put a good organic mulch, such as compost, on top of the soil,” says Fleming. “This prevents surface evaporation. You can then dig that mulch into the soil at season’s end to return organic matter into the soil. It helps this year’s crop and next year’s growing season.”
Jeff Blackadar from the Ontario Horticultural Association also emphasizes mulching. “Mulch is a covering that protects soil from erosion and drying out. It takes many forms: stones, bark, straw … I prefer a natural bark mulch. A layer of 2 3/4 in (7 cm) or so will help conserve water in the soil. When applying mulch, water it in or apply before a rain, so that mulch does not inadvertently act to keep soil dry initially after its application.”
Follow your community’s watering restrictions. A longer, deeper watering is better to develop deeper roots that cope with dry spells than daily shallow watering.
- Switch from wasteful sprinklers to soaker hoses, drip tape, and watering cans.
- Use porous soaker hoses that allow small amounts of water to gradually seep into roots.
- Use tree watering bags to provide slow liquid release to roots; refill them every five to seven days.
- Concentrate watering at the base of plants and vegetable beds, focusing on the roots.
Rain barrels collect water from downspouts for irrigation. They’re particularly useful in smaller patio gardens. Because of their limited capacity, homeowners might need more than one barrel to meet their watering needs.
During summer, potted plants may need daily watering. Hopefully, you’ve used a healthy soil mixture that delivers adequate drainage while also holding in moisture. Frequency of watering depends on the kind of plant, potting medium, container size, and weather conditions.
- Use larger pots if possible; they require less watering.
- Choose pots with drainage holes to prevent soggy overwatering.
- Place a container under pots to capture extra moisture.
Best time to water
“Watering in the morning is what I find works best,” says Rosmarie Lohnes, president of Helping Nature Heal, an ecological landscaping company. “Plants get the whole day to work on making good use of that water. This may lessen molds and mildews from growing on the foliage. The sun will evaporate drips on the leaves as it warms up through the morning.”
Be water smart
Don’t water during the hottest time of the day. Look at the weather forecast. If rain is expected, skip watering.
Best plant choices to conserve water
A range of plants have lower water requirements. Known as “drought tolerant,” they generally display fleshy, smaller leaves and even, silvery colours. Lavender and rosemary are two examples. Corn, squash, peppers, and eggplant are some vegetables that love hot, dry seasons. Ornamental perennials such as eryngium (sea holly), lamb’s ear, and perovskia (Russian sage), among others, are quite drought tolerant.
Native plants can be a good option, but recognize that a BC native plant, for example, is not likely to flourish in drier prairie locations. It’s vital to choose the right plant for the right place. Newly transplanted natives still need regular watering for the first two to three years to settle into a yard’s growing conditions.
Made in the shade
Fleming suggests planting a shade garden with plants that prefer shade and don’t need much moisture. Planting small ornamental trees will also provide shade. In a vegetable garden, sowing a wall of sunflowers can slow evaporation, as long as the sunflowers don’t block out too much sun.
Earthwise Society’s Rainwater Harvesting program educates people on landscape methods to conserve and reuse rainwater while preventing diversion of water into storm sewers. One method is contour gardening, a design technique that creates high, low, wet, and dry areas to channel water. Reduce the size of lawns and allow them to go brown in the summer.
Plan your garden well ahead of time to conserve water rather than waiting for summer water restrictions. Pay extra attention to the soil to make sure it contains plenty of organic matter so it can better retain moisture for the entire growing season. Make sure you choose the right plants for summer site conditions.
Lohnes adds, “When planting, if manure, seaweed, composted yard waste, and other organic materials are added to the soil, the living components of soil will become healthier and more efficient at providing good amounts of soil nutrients. This healthy soil can then promote a reduced need for water in plants.” She emphasizes, “Remember, when we take care of the soil, the soil takes care of us.”
How native plants conserve water
Vegetation that’s indigenous to your locale has adapted to the seasons and climate of your geographic location. Once established, native plants are better able to cope with summer heat, dry spells, and weather challenges. Native plants are very efficient at holding and conserving water and generally use less water than ornamentals. Through natural selection, only the strongest native plants survive.