Friday, June 25, 2010

Frugal Gardening Tip #5 - Saving Water

A few of you have been deluged with rain recently. But, right now, we are dry. Yesterday I noticed all the corn rolled up tight. They looked like a field of spiky cactus instead of the lush green waves of corn that we had last week. The children complain that the grass in "crunchy" and hurts their bare feet.

I know I am blessed to live in an area that generally receives adequate rainfall. We have a summer drought every so often, and a few local farmers irrigate if they are located by a creek. But unlike other parts of the country or world, crops typically grow well here without too much additional watering. Our garden soil is limestone with a good mix of clay, plus the garden is located in a low spot, so we rarely need to water our garden unless a dry spell is extended for a lengthy period (which is what we are in right now.)

It isn't fun to watch your garden and flower beds shrivel up when a dry spell hits. Even though our livelihood does not depend on our garden, I sure would miss it if we didn't receive a harvest.

Wisely using water is something be a goal for us all. We have a good well but those of you who purchase water or have your water use restricted or rationed could probably teach me a few things about wise water usesage.

Here is few tips that we've learned.

  • Build up your soil. Soil absorbs and drains water at different rates. Our clay type ground hold water well. Sandy soil will drain water faster. But all soils improve with added compost. The decomposed leaves, grass, and manure will hold moisture like a sponge and slowly release it to the plants. Good soil will grow stronger plants which will be better able to withstand drought.

  • Mulch. I've already talked about how we love mulch. Last week when my husband tilled up our pea patch. The ground looked striped. Where the peas were growing the ground was dry. Between the rows where we had mulched with grass clippings, the ground was damp. Unless a dry spell is extended, mulching eliminates our need to water.

  • Plant in the ground. I love raised beds, hanging baskets, and container gardens of all types. There certainly is a place for all three, but planting in any kind of raised container or bed instead of directly in the ground is going to drain out the water faster and dry out the ground more quickly. If you live in a bog, this may be of benefit. Of course, if your garden options are limited to pots on your deck, you'll just have to plan on watering. Personally, I have been limiting my container gardening. When we first married, I planted many containers. There were pots on the front and back deck, beside the garage, and in the herb garden. The pots looked great. But, especially as my family responsibilities have increased, my containers became more and more neglected. By the end of summer, the pots were all dead. I've learned to hold back my enthusiasm and only plant as many pots as I can reasonably water through the dog days of August and plant the rest of the plants in the ground where they will survive better with neglect.

  • Bump up a size. If you do plant containers or hanging baskets, the larger the better. A little 8 inch hanging basket will dry out significantly faster then a larger 10 inch basket. Since 8 inch hanging baskets are cheaper, buy the smaller pots and switch them to your own larger pots. The extra soil will give the plants a reservoir of water during dry times.

  • Plastic is better. I can't believe I just said anything good about plastic, but personally I've found that plastic is better at holding in moisture. Clay pots "breathe" which can be good for roots unless it is dry. Most roots don't like "dry". I love the metal hanging baskets with fiber liners, but they are notorious for dehydrating plants. Unless you have nothing better to do then water your hanging baskets twice a day, choose plastic. Or if you like the look of the metal/fiber baskets. Line the inside with a heavy plastic bag before filling with soil and plants.

  • "Diaper" your hanging basket. One of my friends places a disposable diaper on the bottom of her hanging baskets. If you've ever accidentally laundered a disposable diaper (I have, more then once!) you know that the gell stuff they contain blows up to huge proportions when immersed in water. Let that work in your favor to provide water for your plants.

  •  Choose plants wisely. This may be difficult with vegetables, (any variety of sweet corn is going to take water) but it really pays in the flower bed. And in a true drought, my extra water is going to be focused on the vegetables and not the flowers! Generally, perennials take less watering then annuals. Perennials have had time to build large root systems and won't shrivel and die at the first heat wave. Even among perennials and annuals some choices have a much better drought tolerance then others. When shopping at your garden center, one clue on drought tolerance will be found on the plant tag. Plants that like full all day sun, are usually better then plants that prefer only part sun or shade. 

  • Soak don't sprinkle. When you do choose to water, a soaker hose is great investment. A soaker hose looks like a regular hose but it contains lots of tiny holes. You stretch the hose down your garden bed and the water is directed right where it is needed, at the plants roots. Sprinklers, in contrast, spray water up in the air where it is more likely to be evaporated and wasted. Sprinklers frequently over spray where water is not needed and shower the plant's leaves which may encourage disease instead of watering at soil level.
I'm sure there are many other ways to conserve water. What works for you?

This post is linked to Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom.


  1. That diapering idea is genius!!

  2. All good ideas. I have always wondered about catching rain water and using that but I know nothing about it.

  3. I really enjoyed your post. I have a very small vegetable garden growing, but I loved learning from your post to mulch with grass clippings. Thanks so much! :)

  4. We have talked about collecting rain water, but never have done anything pass talk. Our woodshed is right beside our garden and I think it would be handy to have a water barrel there - maybe some day!

  5. Finally a good purpose for disposable diapers!!!

    BTW our basement in flooded, we have PLENTY of water at the moment!

  6. Oh' what a cute little boy! I like him. Anyway, thanks for guiding me through this. I enjoyed reading this post and I will surely follow your tips. Keep posting.


  7. I love your ideas and I also love seeing your children in the garden. In Australia, we are often on water restrictions and our councils determine how much water we can use each Summer. My son, who is 5 loves to help in my garden (although, I did have to teach him that replanting the weeds I had just picked is not helpful)! Thank you for your excellent and useful tips.


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