Zoe Blarowski writing on urban homesteading…
Have you been experiencing a long, dry spell where you live? Are you getting tired of seemingly endless runs out to water your garden, only to watch your water bills climb? Hot and dry weather doesn’t have to cause undue stress on your garden or your pocketbook. The following watering tips are easy adjustments you can make to conserve this precious resource and keep your plants thriving.
1. Water Selectively
You may be tempted to water your entire garden generously during a dry spell, but this can lead to overwatering your plants and wasting water. Instead, start by looking at the plants in your garden. Which plants need the most water? For example, fast-growing plants like vegetables will need more water than mature plantings.
See if your yard has obvious watering “zones” you can divide it into, from high water needs to the lowest. Then focus on irrigating your high-needs plants and let those native shrubs languish for awhile. If you find your plants are too scattered to make good zones, consider a spring or fall project to move plants with similar watering needs closer to each other.
2. Choose Good Irrigation
The key for effective irrigation is to apply water slowly. This gives the water time to absorb into the soil. Too much water applied at once will only run off the soil surface, especially on parched ground. Irrigation systems that deliver water directly to the roots are ideal. Evaporation is minimized, they often water at a slow pace, and you can place them exactly where you want them. Some excellent systems to consider include:
• Soaker hoses
• Drip tape
• Drip irrigation pipes that have emitters built into them
• Micro-emitter systems that can have a variety of different emitters branching off of one main pipe.
Another option is overhead watering, either by hand or automatic systems. These are often easier to install and can also work well, although you run the risk of losing some water to evaporation and overspray. It’s also more difficult to target specific areas with overhead systems.
3. Water at the Right Time of Day.
Early morning is the best time to water because it’s the coolest time of day, which means the lowest amount of evaporation. If you have a larger yard that takes more time to water, watering overnight will still take advantage of lower temperatures compared to during the day. This is when an automatic irrigation timer comes in handy. You can hook up a very simple battery-operated timer to your hose for one irrigation line. Or you can install a hard-wired electrical timer for a multiple-zone system.
4. Check the Depth of Penetration.
How long do you need to water each time? Keep in mind that deep, periodic watering promotes better root development than shallow, frequent applications. It’s important to water long enough to reach at least six inches down. This is where the majority of plant roots live. As you’re watering, check periodically with your finger or a shovel to see how deep the water has gone. Take note of the final time that it took to penetrate six inches. That’s how long you need to water each time.
5. Only Water when Neccessary
Pay attention to when your soil dries out again after a good watering. Check it every day to see when it’s dry down to about six inches for mature plants, or less for newly planted plants.
Check a few different places around your yard as soil conditions can vary, which affects how often you’ll need to water each area. Sandy soils will need more frequent watering because they don’t retain water as well as dense, clay soils. The types of plants in different areas will also affect watering needs. An excellent way to help retain moisture and reduce watering frequency is to cover any exposed soil with a two or three-inch layer of organic mulch, such as woodchips, straw, or dried leaves.
Continue checking periodically throughout your growing season. As conditions like humidity, air temperatures, and wind fluctuate, so will your watering frequency.
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