Water-Wise Gardening

Learn to create a beautiful garden with sustainability in mind. These water saving tips will help you maintain a lush garden while doing your part.

| September 2016

  • Dwarf trees can be very productive in containers, and water use can be minimized with ollas, porous capsules, or microporous hose.
    © Andreas von Einsiedel/Alamy
  • Xeriscaping with efficient irrigation can be attractive while using very little water.
    courtesy of David A. Bainbridge
  • Some cities now make recycled wastewater available, often in magenta-colored pipes to prevent cross connection. This water is usually suitable only for landscaping but when treated to a higher standard can be used for agricultural crops.
    © Available Light/iStockphoto.com
  • “Gardening with Less Water,” by David A. Bainbridge, illustrates step-by-step instructions to install buried clay pots and pipes, wicking systems, and other porous containers that deliver water directly to a plant’s roots with little to no evaporation. These systems are available at hardware stores and garden centers; are easy to set up and use; and work for garden beds, container gardens, and trees.
    By David A Bainbridge

Gardening with Less Water (Storey Publishing, 2015) offers simple, inexpensive, low-tech techniques for watering your garden much more efficiently — using up to 90 percent less water for the same results. With illustrated step-by-step instructions, David Bainbridge shows you how to install buried clay pots and pipes, wicking systems, and other porous containers that deliver water directly to a plant’s roots with little to no evaporation

You can purchase this book from the Capper's Farmer store: Gardening with Less Water.

Water-wise gardening can reduce water demand and improve growth and yield of crops, the beauty of flowers and shrubs, and the health of the soil and landscape. Most of us are using much more water than we need, and we can all make dramatic changes in our gardens, yards, or farms that will make a difference. Cutting water use 50 percent can be relatively easy, but it’s possible to go much further. You may find your savings increase each year as you develop your skills and understanding of super-efficient irrigation and water-wise gardening. Many agriculture extension groups, garden associations, water agencies, and sustainable farming groups offer classes or online materials. Some cities and states are now offering financial incentives as well.

Keep in mind that gardening is also about climate and microclimate. What works in the low desert around Yuma, Arizona, may not work as well in Las Vegas, Santa Fe, or Atlanta. Read with a careful eye, and look for specific information for where you live. Learn from your neighbors, and take classes offered by local experts. Even if they are not familiar with super-efficient irrigation systems, they should be able to help with advice on soils, composting, crop varieties, planting, pest control, and crop timing.

Water-wise Gardening Tips

1. Give priority to the native plants from your region that are drought resistant, drought tolerant, or drought avoiding. The growing interest in xeriscape, a water-efficient landscaping method developed for arid climates, has made it much easier to find plants that will do well with very little water. Succulents often offer the best flowers for the least water. Your local garden center or nursery can help with advice and will usually sell varieties that do well in your area, but don’t restrict yourself to the handful of choices they offer. Search out the native plant nurseries and specialty growers who work with heirloom and exotic varieties. Look through the catalogs and websites of other companies that offer special heirloom and international varieties. Ask about locally developed and adapted species and cultivars. Where no locally adapted varieties are available, try heirloom cultivars from comparable climates. Ask your neighbors, your cooperative extension agent, and garden clubs what works for them and tastes best. Visit the local farmers’ markets and see what is being grown and sold.

2. Choose varieties that are dry land adapted. Many of these heirloom varieties have been selected over generations to do well with less water. Some, such as Hopi corn, have adapted with very deep, fast-growing roots. Also, crops and flowers that can be started indoors early in the season and then planted in the garden in very early spring will complete their life cycle by the time it gets really hot and dry. Trees that are very drought resistant include olives, pomegranates, loquat, macadamias, carob, and mesquite. Dwarf-type trees can also reduce water use and will do well in pots or containers. These can be surprisingly productive. Our Meyer lemon churns out delicious lemons all year long in San Diego!

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