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Gardening with Limited Water

Watering flower garden with blue watering can

Depending on where you garden, water may be a limited resource. Or perhaps you wish to be more resource conscious and reduce waste. Regardless, there are strategies for you to use in your garden that can significantly lower your water needs.

Soils high in organic matter tend to have higher water-holding capacity. Think of your soil as the largest water container you’ll ever own. Maintaining healthy soil high in organic matter allows the container to hold the water both you and Mother Nature add.

Mulching is an easy, multipurpose tool to help keep your garden hydrated. Beyond nearly eliminating the need for weeding and adding valuable organic matter, covering bare soil with mulch reduces evaporation and conserves significant amounts of water.

Instead of planting in long rows, consider planting in blocks. Giving plants only the space they need to grow in a block format creates microenvironments and moisture is recycled. You’ll also find more plants will fit in your garden and weed control becomes easier.

When cultivating, the less the soil is disturbed, the less soil moisture that’s exposed for evaporation. Scuffle hoes are excellent tools for killing weeds with very little soil disturbance.

Water deep, allowing water to soak well beyond the surface of the soil. Deeply watered plants grow more substantial root systems and are less affected by periods of drought.

Consider your watering system. Drip irrigation is an amazing tool for watering deep at specific points within the garden. Drip tapes come with emitters at a variety of intervals and allow you to customize your irrigation system to the plants you grow. Placing plants below these drips will water plants only in their root zone, reducing surface moisture that can be lost to evaporation and reducing disease. The subtle action of drip irrigation allows water to slowly infiltrate the soil, going deeper into the profile with less surface waste.

One additional benefit to drip irrigation is the low water pressure needed to operate it. In a garden that is nearly level, an approximate 10 pounds of pressure will allow the system to operate. Why is that beneficial? Water tanks fed by building gutters or ponds placed above the garden could be utilized for drip systems without using power to pump. Drip irrigation also uses as much as 50 percent less water than overhead irrigation. If you’re in a location where you’re afraid of draining your well, there are other alternatives.

In many gardens, moisture affects productivity more than we realize. A well-watered garden is a garden your neighbors will envy. Try utilizing some of these techniques to not only reduce your water consumption, but keep plants healthier in the process.

Michael Shamblin, WVU Extension Agent – Clay County