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Mulch dry-climate gardens to retain moisture in the soil, increase humidity around plants and boost soil nutrition.
Use Water Wisely
12. Save with a rainy day.
A 1,000-square-foot roof can yield more than 600 gallons of water from 1 inch of rain. Buy a rain barrel (or make your own) or consider a cistern to capture roof water. (Check your state laws. Some states don’t allow rain-water capture.)
13. Catch wasted water.
While waiting for water to warm in your shower, catch the cold water in a bucket or jug, and use it for your container plants. Consider capturing greywater (wastewater from your washer, sinks and bathtubs) for use in your garden. (Again, check state or local regulations.) Place a bucket where it can catch condensation drips from a window-mounted air-conditioning unit.
14. Reuse fish tank water.
If you have a freshwater fish tank, don’t discard water when you change the tank — it’s a nitrogen-rich water source for plants.
15. Add a saucer.
Use saucers under container plants so excess water can be reabsorbed.
16. Water two at a time.
Depending on container locations or portability, water your container plants over tree roots or other vegetation to use runoff water.
17. Deliver water precisely and slowly.
Where a sprinkler can be 50 to 70 percent efficient, a drip-irrigation system can be 90 percent efficient. It also helps control weeds by bypassing them.
18. Water deeply.
If you water your plants slowly and deeply — but only when they need it — you can encourage roots to reach deeper for water. Light, frequent watering produces shallow roots that require more watering.
19. Make mini reservoirs.
Centuries ago, clay-pot irrigation helped provide water for dryland crops. Lately, there’s been renewed interest in the use of ollas (pronounced oy-yas) in dry areas. These unglazed terra-cotta jars are buried in the soil and slowly seep water to plant roots.
20. Soak selectively.
Use soaker hoses to deliver water efficiently. Plant your garden according to watering needs. Run one soaker hose through areas where shallow-rooted plants are growing, and use a splitter to run another through areas where deep-rooted vegetables are planted, managing flow to the hoses accordingly.
21. Time it right.
Water as early in the morning as possible, and try not to water when it’s windy. Add a timer to your irrigation system for early watering.
22. Got mulch?
Organic mulch (including chopped leaves, compost, shredded newspaper, grass clippings, hay or straw) improves the soil as it decomposes, conserves water, increases humidity around plants, reduces weeds and encourages beneficial microbes in the soil. Be sure to apply mulch at least 2 inches deep. Plastic sheeting has been shown highly effective at retaining moisture and increasing soil temperatures in the spring. Install irrigation before you apply mulch to cut down evaporation.
23. Don’t overwater.
Monitor rainfall by leaving a measuring container out in the open and checking and emptying it once a week. Know how much water your plants need, and check soil with a probe before watering.
Gardeners are an inventive lot. Check out and experiment with ideas that might work for you. A few key phrases to research online: no-dig gardening, wicking beds and container gardening bottles.
About the Author: Colorado freelancer and gardener Debbie Moors’ favorite water-wise strategy? Mulch. “It kept weeds down and cut our water use dramatically last year.”
Special thanks to Michael Bartolo, extension vegetable crops specialist at Arkansas Valley Research Center in Rocky Ford, Colo.; Joel Reich, horticulture extension agent, Boulder County, Colo.; and Joran Viers, horticulture agent for the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service in New Mexico.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Urban Farm.
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