Water wisdom

Watering your garden can be a headache in these parched times. Zahra Ali shares some secrets for economising your usage of water

Water wisdom
Although it is the monsoon season in the subcontinent, many parts of our country are still waiting for rains that will fill the wells and soak up the fields. With rising temperatures each year, climate change has become a bitter truth and the weather is now becoming a highly unpredictable affair. What is certain, though, is that the demand for water is rising every day, which means growers and gardeners everywhere need to be more thoughtful about how they use or waste this extremely limited resource. We simply must find ways to easily conserve it.

Droughts may be perceived differently in various parts of the world. But now, even in the world’s temperate regions, gardeners are facing shortages of water. In fact, using water in the garden is no longer as simple a matter as turning on the hose. Besides its economic costs of water as an increasingly dear natural resource, the environmental impact is much bigger.

Some gardeners try to save rainwater or improve their soil to retain moisture. Others opt for drought-tolerant plants and find inspirations from vegetation in deserts.  There are some more ways to conserve water and, in general, to grow a more eco-friendly garden.

For urban gardeners, grasses make for good potted plants

Improve your Soil

You might have noticed that when you buy a plant from a nursery it is usually grown in clay soil. That, actually, is a very smart way to keep the roots moist as they arrive to a nursery near you from another city. Adding clay to your soil might not be a good idea but we have better solutions!

  1. Add organic matter to your soil to help it retain moisture.

  2. Adding coconut husk or peat moss greatly increases the soil quality

  3. Bio-char is a great way to treat your soil

Basically, improving your soil structure will make a huge difference to your water use in the garden. What will keep the soil performing well is covering its surface.

Mulch it!

Today, the contemporary farmer is going back to the basics by adopting successful yet simple practices of ancient farmers. One of these basic techniques is mulching – which is highly rewarding even in a small urban garden. Mulches reduce evaporation from the soil. What do they involve? Well, it simply means covering your top soil with organic matter such as the following:

  1. Wood chips

  2. Saw dust

  3. Coconut husk

  4. Newspapers

  5. Shells

  6. Pine cones

  7. Nutshells

  8. Dry leaves

  9. Straw

  10. Cocoa shells

  11. Grass clipping

  12. Gravel

Recycle grey water

All those gallons of water that we throw away daily in our sinks don’t need to be wasted. Do you know that the water left after washing rice, lentils and grains is actually an excellent fertiliser for plants? This water is loaded with nutrients and we simply let it go to our drains when we can collect it for our plants!

Environmentally-conscious gardeners are now harvesting grey water from their kitchen and washroom sinks. They also make sure that they use simple ‘soups’ which are free of bleach and harmful chemicals. You do not need to redesign the plumbing of your house to do that. Just assign a bucket or a small container for collecting water in your kitchen and outside in the garden.
Improving your soil structure will make a huge difference to your water use in the garden

Rainwater harvesting

People living in deserts actually practice rainwater harvesting by collecting the rainwater in their traditional tanks with large catchment areas. They rely on this water for months to come for their personal use, for their livestock and even for farming. Gardeners in urban areas use their rooftops as catchment areas and sometimes direct all that rain water to a separate underground tank, to be used on their plants during the year. On a smaller scale, you can simply collect water in buckets when it rains!

Re-think surfaces

Gardeners who are keen to conserve water and to spend less time worrying about irrigation of their plants will find great inspirations from nature. Rock gardens, gravel gardens, desert gardens and even Japanese Zen gardens are a few key words to look into here.

Planting a Gravel Garden

One of the best things about the light-reflecting gravel garden is that it gives a very natural, soothing feel to your garden whilst gravel makes the perfect mulch for your soil and prevents it from dying. You can simply start by planting some plants on the ground and then covering up the surface with gravel. This will also allow the plants to self-seed or multiply. Soon the plants will grow and the gravel will become less visible – creating the effect of a wild landscape.

The right plants

Growing native plants will always work. Look for natural survivors that grow in the wild and are drought-resistant.  In areas which are not quite so green, one can always search for plants from a similar climate and try to grow it in their own.

Grasses are now regaining popularity because of their ability to self-seed and adapt to difficult conditions. Whilst cacti are ideal for such gardens, don’t forget that there is a diverse collection of plants to choose from.

Eucalyptus is one of the plants designed to save water. The leaves are naturally drooping to reduce the effect of the sun. Succulents in general store water in their fleshy leaves that are tightly clustered to hide their surface and thus save water. These stunning plants may be hard to find but once you do, you will treasure them for a long time. Another plant that will live without water for a long time is purslane and moss rose. Pines are also among those plants that retain water thanks to their super fine needle-like leaves.

These are just a few examples of what you can grow whilst economising on water use. If you have access to water you can combine any plant in a gravel garden or use mulching to reduce water use.

Making the most of watering

Give your plants a good start by immediately watering them once transferred. In summers, always water in the evening when sun goes down and plants get more time to soak in water. Some plants need more water and some need less.

The best way to tell when it is time to water is to check the soil. Water only when your soil begins to go dry. This will work on most plants. However, cacti, succulents and other such plants love dry sandy soils and live without watering for weeks.

Remember, of course, to use drip irrigation systems – or make your own efficient ways of watering your garden!

Practicing these simple smart ways of water-wise gardening will not only conserve water and save you time and resources, but they will also make you a wiser grower and an ecologically-conscious citizen.

Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk