In these times of drought, we all need to be smart about keeping our plants healthy – and not waste water at the same time. A thriving garden doesn’t require tons of water. It simply needs a smart gardener armed with practical ideas and frugal techniques.
To retain water, add compost to your soil
Organic composting helps amend your garden soil with nutrients so it can be fertile. It also traps moisture to help plants take root. Composting can be done even without an expensive bin. As an example, you can collect food scraps from your kitchen and take them straight into a compost pile.
Apply mulch to your soil
Mulch provides a protective layer that can prevent up to 70% of moisture from evaporating, especially on a hot day. After composting, apply an adequate layer of mulch to avoid water runoff. Mulching also keeps weeds from taking over precious soil space and vying for water and nutrients, which your growing plants badly need.
Have a strict AM and PM watering schedule
Keeping to a fixed routine can help you save water while optimizing root and plant growth. Gardens are best watered from early morning up until temperature begins to rise before noon because there is less evaporation then. If your plants are in pots and containers, they tend to dry out quickly so water them at noon and into the early afternoon.
Avoid watering at night – this can cause fungal growth because there is no sun to help evaporate excess moisture.
Know which plants to water at specific times
Of course, observing your plants for any sign of drought stress means you have to customize your watering schedule specifically around it. Knowing the types of plants and their developmental stages can also help you incrementally reduce watering. For instance, squash, melons, cucumbers, and other vine crops only need ample watering during their flowering and fruiting stages. Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants also do not need excess watering as they love the heat, and tend to bear more fruit in warmer weather.
Avoid “thirsty” plants
If you’re starting a garden from scratch, it’s wise to go for plants that don’t “guzzle” water and require a lot of maintenance. Low-maintenance plants like succulents are ideal because they thrive in drought-like conditions, such as in deserts. Go for small plants and those with narrow leaves instead (ferns are a good example).
If your garden already has established plants that are slow-growing, fret not because those don’t require a lot of watering, either. Thirsty plants include big-leafed ones, ones that need constant fertilizing, and those that grow at a rapid rate or are newly-planted.
Save kitchen and fish tank water
After boiling vegetables, don’t throw away the water in your pot. Let it cool before using it to water your plants. There are added vitamins and minerals in this water that can help nourish your plants. The same goes for water from your fish tank- it’s rich in phosphorous and nitrogen that can aid plant growth.
Choose drought-tolerant plants
In times of drought, think small. This means the smaller the produce, the bigger its chance of surviving hot weather. Think miniature bell peppers, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, and other vegetables that are tiny yet rich in nutrients, and actually flourish in heat.
Other tried-and-tested drought-resistant produce include okra, Swiss chard, legumes like chickpea, lima beans and cow beans, mature rhubarb, chiles, cantaloupe, and herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and lavender.
Collect rainwater in your garden
You can harvest water when it rains by using a plastic or metal barrel to collect roof runoff. You can place the barrel directly beneath a downspout so it collects most of the water and fills up quickly. Use a dipper to water the plants with, and keep the barrel covered to prevent insects and debris from getting into it. Doing these can significantly reduce your water bill, as opposed to relying on a garden hose for regular watering.
Select practical plant containers
The kind of pot or container you put your plant into can have a great effect on its growth and your gardening habits. Avoid metal containers because they will just take away the moisture from the soil in the container and create an overheated environment. Use them as decorative outer containers, instead.
Go for glazed pots. If you choose unglazed terra cotta ones, chances are the soil will dry faster in them because they’re porous. If you need to transplant seeds and starts outdoors, you buy coconut husk pots that decay when roots start taking hold, or biodegradable plant pots that allow you to bury them whole into the ground without replanting.
Group plants with similar water needs
In a drought, it’s no longer practical to plant in rows. It makes better sense to do block and grouped planting. The logic behind this is that the plants provide much-needed shade and nutrients for each other without competing for moisture and nourishment. A water-efficient garden layout can have blocks of similar-needs produce like cucumbers, squash, and zucchini – these vegetables require the same amount of watering. It may be tempting to add some cauliflower or broccoli into the mix, but as they need more room and are thirsty plants, they will create a problem with watering and nourishment.