Lately, it seems like every time you turn on the local weather forecast, the meteorologist is talking about drought conditions. If you are in a severely affected area, or under water restrictions, this doesn’t mean you have to give up gardening. By following some drought-wise garden water tips, you can have your water, and your garden, too.
You may have come across the term “xeriscaping” (pronounced zer-a-scap-ing), referring to dry climate gardening. Many people associate this term with deserts, cacti, and succulent plants. But with dry climates in much of the country now, this term means much more and definitely does not mean “zero-landscaping.”
This spring about one-third of the country is experiencing some level of drought conditions with about one-third of the country in a drought watch area. Some states and many counties, including all 14 counties in Vermont, were made eligible for emergency farm drought aid this spring. Some mid-Atlantic states imposed water restrictions earlier this year.
To keep up with current drought conditions through articles, links, and maps, visit online the National Drought Mitigation Center (www.enso.unl.edu/ndmc/watch/watch.htm).
The University of Massachusetts has a website just for drought information for New England (www.UmassDroughtInfo.org)
So how can you save or recycle water, or use less?
–If you have water restrictions in your area or town, find out what they cover. If drought conditions aren’t too severe, they may just cover use of lawn sprinklers and not watering of gardens.
–Water in the early morning, when there is less heat and wind, so less water is lost to evaporation. Timers on automatic watering systems make watering very early much easier.
–Don’t use overhead sprinklers, which may lose over half the water to evaporation on a hot day. Instead use manual watering, soaker hoses, or drip systems. Soaker hoses are simply permeable hoses, often made of recycled materials, which allow water to soak through them slowly. Placed on beds near plants, they provide a slow trickle of water to the root zone. If you cover these hoses with mulch, they lose even less water to the air and are invisible.
–Water deeply and less often rather than for shorter periods more often. This allows water to penetrate deeper, and thus encourages deeper roots that are more resistant to drought. Lawns and bedding plants should be watered to at least six inches deep. Perennials, shrubs and trees should be watered to at least 12 inches deep. Use a rain gauge to check the amount of water from your sprinkler or rainfall. These are available from garden and hardware stores. One inch of water will wet a sandy soil to a depth of about 12 inches.
–Water established plants only if really needed and once they begin to wilt. Many perennials and woody plants may wilt, and not perform best if dry, but will survive. This is especially true if they were healthy and well watered prior to drought conditions. Only a few perennials such as false spirea (Astilbe) have leaves that turn brown and don’t recover if dry, but have to generate new leaves.
Collecting, Saving Water
–Repair leaks in hoses and fittings. This may be as simple as replacing the washers in hose fittings. A slow leak of one drip per second can lose nine gallons of water a day, 260 gallons a month. A faster leak, filling an eight-ounce cup in eight seconds, wastes 675 gallons a day, or 20,000 gallons a month!
–Collect wasted and “gray” water from your household. The latter is rinse water from dishwashers and from washing dishes. When adjusting the hot and cold in baths and showers, use a bucket to collect the water that would normally go down the drain before the temperature is adjusted. You also can collect and reuse water from dehumidifiers or window air conditioners.
–Collect water from downspouts of gutters, or divert these directly into flowerbeds.
Other areas to consider in the landscape for conserving water are in the proper use of cultural practices, containers, and responsible lawn care.
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Greenhouse and Nursery Crops Specialist
University of Vermont