Eco-Gardening: How to Conserve Water
The key to conserving water lies in the soil. Well-structured soil that is high in organic matter retains more moisture than free-draining sandy types; heavy clay holds moisture but plants cannot always extract from it the amounts they need.
Whatever soil you have, you can improve its water-holding capacity by following these simple steps:
- Dig in bulky organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, in the vegetable plot. Do this every spring in sandy soil and every fall in heavy soil.
- Seal in the moisture with a mulch applied when the soil is moist after rainfall in spring. The best mulch for this is bulky organic matter such as manure or compost; otherwise, use damp newspaper or landscape fabric (geotextile membrane) covered with bark chips or gravel. Plants in containers can be mulched with decorative materials that may be too costly for large areas.
- Avoid planting and digging during dry spells. This brings moist soil from the lower depths to the surface, where it will dry out, and sends dry soil from the surface to the lower depths, where the roots need water most.
- Keep weeds at bay, because they compete with plants for moisture. Pull them up, or hoe them off while they are young; dig out perennial weeds with the complete root system, or apply a weedkiller.
- Provide shelter to prevent wind from drying the soil and increasing the rate at which plants lose water through their leaves. Add a fence or hedge to shield your garden from the prevailing wind. Newly planted trees or shrubs will establish better if protected by a windbreak for their first year; staple windbreak netting or burlap to posts on the plants’ windward side.
- Use water-retaining gel in containers and hanging baskets, particularly those on a sunny patio. This is generally too expensive to add to all beds and borders, but it may be worth considering using it around vulnerable and precious new plants or recent transplants.
- Choose drought-resistant plants if you live in a particularly dry area or have a hot spot in your garden. Once established, though, most plants will survive spells of drought.