Summer is lawn and garden season, when frequent watering is often a must. But with the world water supply in jeopardy, we turn our thoughts to conserving this vital resource.
Along with good watering habits, a well-chosen garden gadget or two can help you make better use of both your time and our precious water.
Good watering habits include using organic matter such as compost whenever you can, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of an organic mulch such as shredded bark or leaves, choose plants that don’t require shearing as that causes the plant to lose water, water deeply and infrequently, water the soil not the plants, water only when needed, and water early in the day as plants are better equipped to take up water then.
Water-wise garden tools and gadgets to save water include these that are the most likely to give you the most benefit and that you might already own.
Use your downspouts (if you have them) as the resource that they are! While it’s always a good idea to direct storm runoff away from your house foundation with a splash block, extensions can direct the water to where it’s needed. Flexible extensions that roll out and sprinkle under pressure make it easy to water your foundation plants, but be prepared to unclog them regularly if your gutters collect tree debris. Use downspouts as an efficient way to fill rain barrels, too.
Recycling rainwater runoff that would otherwise pour out of your downspouts and be wasted couldn’t be easier. Simply set a rain barrel beneath your downspouts and you’ll have a free supply of water for your yard. Though the wooden ones have a rustic charm, plastic ones are more widely available.
Look for a lid to keep out debris and mosquitoes, a hose fitting that will give you easy access to the collected water, and a diverter that lets you switch back to the downspout should the rain barrel get full. Don’t expect to be able to water directly from your rain barrel; gravity probably won’t give enough pressure to get water through a hose. Instead, use the hose fitting to conveniently fill a watering can or your slow delivery containers.
For hand-watering, an extension handle, breaker, and shutoff is an inexpensive threesome that can’t be beat! An extension handle (also known as a water wand) lets you get the hose end down to soil level—where the water should go—without having to stoop or wave a floppy hose around. Even if you could hit your mark by holding the hose at waist level, you run the risk of washing away your mulch or eroding your soil from the blast.
A water breaker fits onto the end of a hose extension handle. Its job is to break the water stream into little droplets that have less impact on your soil and mulch than a steady stream or spray from a hose nozzle would.
SLOW-DELIVERY WATERING AIDS
Hand-watering plants can mean a lot of repeat trips to the garden, but you can avoid all this fuss, with low-tech, slow-delivery tools like plastic bottles, unglazed flowerpots, or Aqua Spikes. Punch holes in the bottom of plastic milk, water, or soft drink bottles, place them on or in the soil, and fill them with water from your hose as needed. You can use unglazed clay pots in a similar way, but they are very porous so you’ll need to set them down in the soil or the water will just evaporate.
Aqua spikes are a clever invention that you can attach to inverted plastic soda bottles and turn them into handy watering devices. Fill a 2-liter bottle with water, screw on the aqua spike at the cap end, then turn the bottle upside down, and poke the spike into the soil. Each of these low-cost or recycled gadgets send water directly to your plants’ root zones and are especially effective because there’s little or no waste from evaporation or runoff.
Soaker hoses are another great inexpensive way to water your plants. When you keep the water pressure down on these porous hoses, they’ll water evenly with no runoff. A soaker hose delivers water directly to plants’ root zones, so a minimum is lost in the wind or water on wetting the foliage.
DRIP IRRIGATION SYSTEMS
Like soaker hoses, drip irrigations systems deliver water to the root zones of plants. Small-diameter tubing and emitters, which are fittings that drip water at an even rate, let you regulate where and how much water to use. You can purchase components at a modest price and assemble your own system.
Whether you use a drip system or soaker hoses to water your plants, a timer can help you to make the best use of your time and water. Timers attach inline with your hose at the spigot and automatically start your watering system during those optimal morning hours while you’re busy getting the kids ready for school or rushing off to work. Timers are available in electric, battery-powered, or manual wind-up models.
Y-connectors make it easy to extend your watering capabilities, letting you reach all your garden beds at once from one spigot, whether you use hoses, drip systems, sprinklers, or a combination. This handy little gadget attaches at the spigot so you run two hoses from the same spot.
Adapted from The New American Backyard, by Kris Medic. Copyright (c) 2001 by Kris Medic. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Press.
Adapted from The New American Backyard, by Kris Medic.