Tips and Tricks for the Water-Conscious Gardener
Water wise gardening is permeating more discussions around how we garden responsibly here in the Pacific Northwest. As our summers become hotter and drier, it’s critical to implement water-wise strategies sooner rather than later. It’s important to remember that you need not be a water-wise perfectionist to make a difference.
“One of the biggest misconceptions people have about climate change and gardening is that they can’t make an impact. The truth is, gardening is a growing hobby and lifestyle. Roughly 185 million people garden in the US according to American Home Gardening Statistics. Imagine if all of those gardeners made a water wise gardening choice...”
- Nancy Goodin, WSU Extension Master Gardener
Making a few small changes in your garden each year is a great strategy for being part of the solution. We’ve outlined a handful of strategies that you can turn to this summer if you’re looking to create a water savvy outdoor space.
Choose Drought-Tolerant Plants
For long-term water conservation results, many gardeners are opting for drought tolerant plants. A drought-tolerant plant only requires supplemental water once a month or so after it’s been established. It’s important to properly water drought-tolerant plants about once a week throughout the dry season for the first two years after planting. This allows them to establish strong roots and adapt to their environment.
- Dusty Miller
Drought-Tolerant Native Plants:
Nancy Goodin recommends starting with the right plant, in the right place. “In general, choose native and drought-tolerant plants that are adapted to our region and the climate patterns we experience as well as plants that support our native wildlife.”
Incorporate Soil Amendments
Soil amendments can improve the texture and water retention capabilities of your soil. If the soil in your garden is naturally sandy or clay, adding an amendment can reduce run-off and improve the health of your soil overall. In summer if you’re going to incorporate a soil amendment in your garden we recommend a fully decomposed option like compost or soil conditioner.
If you’re looking to amend an established garden bed, adding 1-2 inches of fully decomposed organic material is the way to go. You should remove any mulch that is currently in your garden beds, add 1-2 inches of an organic material and then top it off with 2-3 inches of mulch. Mulch reduces evaporative water loss from the soil's surface. This process can be completed at any point in the growing season without fear of damaging established roots. Mulch can and should be replenished throughout the season as needed.
If you’re looking to add a soil amendment to a yet-to-be established garden bed the process is a bit different. Your goal here is to add organic matter deeply and thoroughly. Tilling the soil to break up hardpan and encourage filtration and drainage is the goal. This process is simple but involves a few more steps.
Step 1: Manually remove ~6 inches of topsoil. You can set aside the topsoil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp.
Step 2: Loosen the subsoil with a spade or shovel.
Step 3: Add organic material to the subsoil and thoroughly incorporate it.
Step 4: Place the topsoil with added organic matter over the loosened subsoil.
If you’re wondering how much organic matter to use, we like to go with the 2:1 ratio rule of thumb. For every two inches of soil you till, add one inch of fully decomposed organic matter.
Molbak’s carries a large selection of organic soil amendments:
- Molbak’s Planting Compost (our very own proprietary, organic blend)
- G&B Soil Building Conditioner
- E.B. Stone Hemlock Bark
Perform Proper + Thoughtful Watering
Have you given much thought to where, how and when you water? A few small adjustments in your watering habits can greatly reduce the amount of water you use and improve watering efficiency for your plants.
“Group plants together that have the same watering needs to ensure you aren’t wasting your water on plants that can thrive without the excess,” Goodin shared. “If fact, you could be doing harm to your plants by over watering them … only applying as much water as your plants need is an important aspect of Waterwise Gardening.”
Consider these tips the next time you water.
- Water deeply, less often – with the exception of containers, if you water your plants deeply you can go a day or two in between watering. On hot summer days, containers often need to be watered more often (even twice a day in some cases).
- Hydrozone your plants – this is as simple as planting varieties with the same needs together (think water, sun, soil and fertilizer requirements).
- Opt for a rain barrel – catching water from your gutter is a great way to conserve water with little effort.
- Irrigation – there are many irrigation systems out there to choose from. While there is an initial cost associated with installing an irrigation system, it pays for itself over time.
- Invest in watering tools – soaker hoses and watering wands allow gardeners to water properly and efficiently with little water waste.
- Water at the plant’s base – top watering with a sprinkler or hose often leads to water waste. Watering at the base of a plant ensures water is going directly to the roots.
- Water at the right time – early morning watering is the way to go. It gives soil ample time to dry out a bit before the sun goes down and ensures your plants’ leaves aren’t getting scorched by the hot midday sun.
Weeds compete with other plants for water, and they are thirsty! Consistent weeding, mulching and good garden design will control most weeds. A 4” layer of mulch can significantly decrease the number of weeds in your garden beds. Be sure to keep mulch away from the stems and trunks of plants, bushes and trees.
Many gardeners are opting to plant native varieties of plants, shrubs and trees in growing numbers. The desire to bring native plants into our gardens stems from the growing knowledge that native plants have so much to offer. Native plants preserve biodiversity and sustain habitats for native birds and other desirable pollinators – bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
They’re generally low maintenance and because they are adapted to the local conditions, they require much less water than non-native species. You don’t have to be a native plant purist to start introducing native plants to your garden. Introducing these native species over time can positively impact the biodiversity of your garden for years to come.
Smart water conservation decisions in the garden don’t have to feel burdensome or cost a fortune. Making small, incremental changes year over year will lead to a water wise garden in no time. Looking to learn more? Come visit us at Molbak’s or take one of our upcoming seminars or classes.
Learn more with Nancy Goodin, WSU Extension Master Gardener
- Waterwise Gardening Talk in Gig Harbor | Details
- Waterwise Gardens: Cultivate Your Water Conscious Oasis | Details