8 Tips to Water a Garden While Preserving Water


Banner picture of a green leaf with water droplets on it

Water, together with breathable gasses, are undoubtedly essential natural resources that living things need. The human body is composed of 70% water. An average human weighing in at 132-pounds has 11 gallons of water in the body. The loss of 1.5 to 2 gallons of water can cause fatal dehydration. It is both the most essential and most misused and wasted resource.

Water is at the center of economic and social development; it is vital to maintain health, grow food, manage the environment, and create jobs. As a finite resource, how we use water is essential to our continued sustainability.

Introduction

This piece will review water, its relative value, and how to preserve it in your gardening operations. We will explore different water-saving techniques and how to maximize your returns on investment (ROI) on water-spend. We hope this will be of value to you – if it is, please consider signing up for post-notifications at the bottom of this article.

Why is Water Such an Issue?

According to Water Footprint Network research, of the 3,143 counties in the United States, 2,164 counties spend most of their water on agriculture. On average, the United States consumes the equivalent of 2,200 gallons of water per person per day. The United Kingdom, in contrast, consumes 910 gallons of water per person per day.

Below is Water Footprint Network’s map of U.S. counties and their respective main water-consuming industries.

Basic economics prescribes that the value of an item is directly proportional to its availability. As a case in point, water becomes supremely valuable to a person caught in a desert without any water. For interest’s sake, let’s call that person Pete. As Pete clambers up the dune, his mouth parched and his energies waning, he peers over the rim only to see more sand.

Pete would, at that moment, give all that he owns for a gallon of water. Worldwide, there are 771 million Pete’s without clean water close to home. So for Pete’s sake, let’s see how we can use water more effectively.

According to WaterAid, in 2016 in the United States, eight people in ten thousand (0.08-percent) lived without access to safe water. Water is a critical issue; how and what we use it for needs our careful consideration. According to Berkley University, did you know that the water needed to deliver a single serving of steak is 2,600 gallons?

None of us can make it rain, however, we are all able to use less water

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8 Way of Saving Water in Your Garden

1. Preserve Water With Hydroponics

A picture of two people working with a hydroponic basket

Some misconceptions remain regarding the efficacy of hydroponics to save water – after all, the system is water-based. The difference is that even though plants are in a soilless system, the water used is perpetually recycled. Essential nutrients are dissolved in the water, making them directly available to the plant.

Hydropic systems make ten times better use of water than soil-based plants. The water that is lost is due to evaporation and not run-off. Plants in the hydroponic system get their light either from the sun or artificial lighting. Exposed roots get oxygen from the air. Plant nutrients like phosphorous, nitrogen, and calcium are dissolved in the circulated water.

While aeroponics exposes the roots to a water mist, most hydroponic systems use a growth medium like coconut coir to support the roots and allow better water absorption to the root structure.

Types of Hydronic Watering Systems

  • Wick: A cord directs water to the roots through capillary action, maximizing the roots’ exposure to oxygen
  • Air-gap: Only part of the roots are immersed in water to ensure maximum oxygen uptake
  • Raft: Plants are anchored on a raft with roots fully immersed in nutrient-laden water. An air pump pumps oxygen into the water and under the roots.
  • Ebb-and-Flow: Intermittently pumped nutrient-laden water flows over the growth medium and plant roots. Hydration cycles are adjustable to meet the plant’s needs, often coinciding with light availability.
  • Top-Feeder: Nutrient-laden water is pumped to the top of the growth medium, gravity-fed to the reservoir and recycled.

2. Preserve Water With Aquaponics

A picture of a yellow fish breaking the surface

Aquaponics employs the same production principles used in hydroponics – with fish production using the same water used for the plants. The fish are an integral part of a system, provide the nutrients required by the plants. The symbiotic relationship works brilliantly.

The plants clean the water for the fish, and the fish’s organic food converts to nitrogen-rich water for the plants. It’s elementary (no pun intended) science that requires a minor balancing act.

In traditional farming practices, the plant expends a lot of energy, developing an extensive root system. With aquaponics, this energy is still available but is now used for plant and fruit growth.

Aquaponics provides faster plant development and saves water, which is a crucial concern in drought-stricken areas. Aquaponics systems use 90-percent less water than traditional soil cultivation.

With aquaponics, there is essentially no evaporation. Water consumption is the way plants use it – through transpiration. Plants can only take up water at the tips of their roots, which means in soil agriculture, you need to soak the top layer of soil for the water to reach down to where the plant utilizes it. Most of the water in the top layer of soil evaporates.

3. Choose Lawns that Require Less Water

A picture of a green lawn with a building in the background

The Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance (TWCA) works to produce grasses for all the seasonal regions in the United States. They suggest five drought-tolerant lawn types, able to survive with less water.

Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue is a robust and adaptable cool-season turf with a reputation for drought resistance.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass is one of North America’s most common and appreciated turfgrasses. This versatile cool-season turf is known for its smooth, boat-shaped leaves and deep dark green hue.

Bermuda Grass

Bermudagrass is a strong warm-season turf that flourishes in the south and transition zones. Some states consider it a pest for its invasive nature.

Fine Fescue

A fine Fescue is a multi-species group that includes various fescue species. Fine fescue cultivars are mostly found in mixes and rarely as single cultivars.

Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial Ryegrass is a favorite of homeowners due to its quick germination and rapid growth. This popular grass, which prefers a temperate climate, is also used for overseeding bermudagrass turf areas for green winter cover.

4. Use WaterSense Systems

A picture of a water droplet splashing on a stack of coins

It’s critical to know how much water your plants require before turning on the sprinkler, regardless of the type of yard or landscape you have. Pesticides and fertilizers may be used less frequently as a result of smart watering techniques.

Water-saving technologies can help you maintain your residential or light business irrigation system functioning smoothly without much effort. You may make a difference by watering at the appropriate times and giving plants only the amount of water they require.

Clock-based technologies are not smart. WaterSense technologies allow you to monitor either the weather or the moisture in your soil, watering only when needed. This helps water only to be given when needed – no wastage.

Moisture-based technologies make use of water sensing probes that are stuck into the soil. These connect to a micro-switch to activates the supply valve. Moisture probes are also available for large-scale farmers connected to satellite systems to monitor moisture and growth and manage irrigation systems.

The EPA WaterSense website has loads of valuable information to help you save water and get rewarded for it.

Store Rainwater for Later Use


5. Good Vegatable Irrigation Practices

A picture of a little boy watering a garden with a watering can

The most efficient way to irrigate vegetable gardens and orchards is through drip-feed. Drip irrigation is sometimes called trickle irrigation and involves dripping water onto the soil at meager rates.

A system of small diameter poly pipes fitted with drippers releases water at the base of the plant. The rate at which the droplets flow can vary between half-gallon to 4 gallons per hour.

Water is applied close to the base of the plant or tree (commonly used with Avocado farmers), providing moisture to the soil in which the roots grow. The process minimizes evaporation and loss to the wind, unlike traditional irrigation systems.

The frequency of the drip irrigation cycle varies between one and three days. Drip-fed watering water the plant where it needs it most.  The system also limits weed growth by limiting the weeds’ access to water.

A problem you may encounter with the system is blocked dripper nozzles. The dripper has a tiny aperture through which water passes, and impurities in the water may block them. They are easy to replace and clean but require constant attention. A filtration system may solve the problem.

6. Optimize Production Yields with Polytunnels

A picture of a person working in a hoop house

Polytunnels are semi-permanent, transparent plastic constructions that protect plants from the outdoors. They allow the whole spectrum of sunlight to pass through but trap infrared heat reflected from the earth or plants, raising temperatures. Carbon dioxide allows sunlight to pass through but retains infrared heat reflected from the ground, thus the phrase “greenhouse gas.”

Polytunnels (or Hoop houses) provide a way to control the climate. Also, plant transpiration accumulates inside the tunnel because it is a closed system, especially in cooler weather. This is often only noticed when the wind causes the polyethylene to flap (when not properly secured).

Because there isn’t any rain, your polytunnel will need regular watering. The simplest option is to use a watering can or hose, but this is time-consuming.

Drip irrigation discussed above or seep hoses (similar to drip feed but beneath the soil) are the best option if connected to a WaterSense system that monitors moisture in the soil. The more complex your setup, the more valuable an automated system will be.

A polytunnel also provides increased possibilities for vertical gardening and gravity-fed watering arrangements. If you look at my video above, you can also get some ideas regarding capturing rainwater. At a minimum cost, you can get a successful garden setup and save thousands of gallons.

7. Improve Lawn Irrigation Practices

A picture of a sprinkler watering a lawn

As much as 50 percent of the water we use outdoors, the wind blows away, evaporates, or runs off. The main cause is inefficient irrigation methods and systems. A household with an automatic landscape irrigation system that isn’t properly maintained and operated can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water annually.

Check your Valves

One of the biggest water wasters is a dripping faucet. When connected to a hosepipe, the drip is less noticeable and can lead to a loss of thousands of gallons over a year. Replace spaces regularly and tighten the faucet.

Water Timing

It is better to water early in the morning when the day is still cool. Though it may be cool in the evening too, watering your lawn in the evening can result in fungi growth. It is safer to water in the morning to get water to the roots and expose your grass leaves to sunlight for them to dry.

Avoid watering in the middle of the day when the evaporation factor is high. If you have a watering system on a timer, consider switching to a WaterSense device. In some counties, there are rebates for their installation costs.

How Much

Most lawns require an inch of water a week. Ideally, you want to do that in one soaking. The EPA suggests you try putting a couple of empty tuna cans on the lawn before you water. Once they are full, you have watered an inch.

While fine mist blowing systems may give a sense of water abundance, low and slow works much more efficiently, a high percentage of the mist evaporates and blows away – great for the neighbor, but a loss for you.

8. Consider a Xeriscape Garden

A picture of a purple wall with Xeriscape plants

There are essentially three types of gardens to choose from; hydro, mesic and xeric – hydro for water (wet); mesic for the middle (or generally damp); and xeric for dry.

Xeriscaping is a form of landscaping or gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for irrigation.

By using indigenous plants, the needs of the plants match what nature has to offer. There are exquisite examples of creative Xeriscaping solutions using cacti, succulents, and zero maintenance grass.

In Arizona and Nevada, some residential lawns use as much as 75-percent of available potable water. This while droughts are becoming increasingly common due to present climate conditions, making fresh drinking water a precious commodity on a global scale. Compared to already practiced greenspaces, xeriscaping helps preserve water for people and animals because it relies more on natural rainfall and requires less upkeep.

FAQ

Summary

There are many ways you can still have a fabulous garden AND save water. Just like the small drips of the faucet accumulate to thousands of gallons, so your small effort can make a real difference.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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